Lehigh HS star among 2 dead, 18 others shot outside Fort Myers nightclub

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Two people are dead and three others remain hospitalized after 20 people were shot at a nightclub early Monday morning.

Stef’an Strawder, an 18-year-old star basketball player for Lehigh Senior High School, and 14-year-old Sean Archilles, a student at Royal Palm Exceptional School, were the two teens killed, Fort Myers police said.

Strawder posted on Facebook shortly before going to the nightclub teen party where the shooting took place.

Ste'fan Strawder (via Facebook)
Stef’an Strawder (via Facebook)

The shooting happened around 12:30 a.m. at Club Blu, 3580 Evans Ave. Victims as young as 12 and as old as 27 were taken to Lee Memorial Hospital:

  • 16 people were treated in the trauma center and emergency department.
  • One person died at the hospital. The other died at the scene.
  • One person was discharged from Lee Memorial Monday afternoon. Another remains in fair condition, and two more people are still in critical condition, a hospital official said Tuesday morning.
  • One person was taken to Cape Coral Hospital.
  • The other victims were treated and released.

The eldest victim was a security guard. Another security guard was injured in the shooting.

The shooting is not an act of terror, Fort Myers Interim Police Chief Dennis Eads said during a press conference Monday afternoon:

Investigation begins

Three people, identified as Derrick Church, 19, Demetrius O’Neal, 19, and Tajze Battle, 22, are currently in custody following the shooting, the sheriff’s office said.

The weapons used have been recovered, Fort Myers mayor Randy Henderson said at a City Council meeting Monday.

Henderson called the situation “heartbreaking” and called it a crime of spontaneous behavior that would have been difficult for law enforcement to prevent. Facebook tips are helping, Henderson said.

“As this kind of activity continues to emerge across our state and the nation and indeed the world, we remain ever mindful of the fact that we’ve got to do better in protecting citizens,” Henderson said. “So you’re going to see a substantial continued effort in that regard.”

Authorities were also on the 2500 block of Parkway Street where at least one house and a few cars were shot at in connection with the nightclub shooting.

The federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and FBI are assisting the Fort Myers Police Department with the investigation, WINK News has learned.

Surveillance video from a store on Ortiz Avenue shows police speeding by shortly after the nightclub shooting happened:

A sign outside the club indicated that club is under new ownership. A relative of Club Blu’s new owner released a statement to WINK News saying in part, “I want to start by sending my deepest condolences to the victims and families who were effected by this horrible tragedy! In the midst of all the havoc a Facebook post was made on behalf of Blu that was not approved, and I want to apologize on Behalf of the owners as the post may have been misconstrued.”

Multiple statements following the shooting were posted to Facebook by Club Blu but were later removed.

club blu 2nd statement

A statement the club posted earlier to Facebook and deleted took a more aggressive tone, saying that the event had ended by the time the shooting took place.

deletedclubbluestatement

The club’s former manager says there were eight unarmed security guards at Club Blu during the event, as well as two armed guards in the parking lot and another armed guard at the door.

The nightclub’s liquor license was pulled in July after failing an audit, the former manager added. According to city documents from 2013, the owner at the time, Rudolph Samuels, called Club Blu a bar and restaurant and insisted it was not a nightclub.

Club Blu’s former manager also added there was no alcohol at the club during the event and says they have had teen nights before but have never had any problems.

The mass shooting is not the first incident of gun violence outside the club. Lewis Jerome Lopez was shot in his right leg in May 2015 while “hanging out in the parking lot of Club Blu,” according to an incident report. Another man, Barry White, was also shot in his right thigh while standing at the club’s entrance. Neither men pressed charges.

A ‘madhouse’

“Everyone tried to run and duck for cover. I’m sorry I’m so shaken up,” a nightclub patron said via Facebook private message as she described the moments gunshots rang outside.

She said it was a summer teen party. A flier from the club advertises the event as a swimsuit glow party. Although the flier says “No ID,” security guards said they vouched ages to make sure the party crowd was under the age of 21.

There were 70 to 80 people inside the club at the time of the shooting.swimsuit

FMPD confirmed the shooting happened in the club parking lot.

Witnesses also described the moments outside the club as a “mad house.” People poured out of the nightclub, a witness said. One woman who lives two blocks from Club Blu said she heard about 30 gunshots from what she believes to have been multiple guns.

When she arrived, people were crying and screaming as others were being carried away in ambulances.

“It was unbelievable,” the woman wrote.

Another person on the scene said he gave his shirt to a man who had been shot in the neck. Witness Lizy Figueroa said she saw people running everywhere.

“They were yelling ‘Help! Call the Police!’ They were yelling everything,” Figueroa said. You couldn’t really tell because everybody was yelling at the same time.”

‘A lot of phone calls to parents’

One of those shot was a friend of Brian Martin, who heard about it through a phone call.

“I called and couldn’t get a hold of them, I rushed to Blu scared when I arrived I got one of them and he said that the shooter took of and the cops where chasing him,” he said.

Martin said was struck by the large number of people desperately calling out the names of their loved ones outside the club.

“It was a mad house people were running every where. All people were saying was their friends’ names to see if they’re okay — a lot of phone calls to parents,” he said. “But it was one of the scariest sights to just see people come pouring out like that.”

Jean Archilles, 14-year-old Sean Archilles’ father, had a difficult time describing the moments he found out his son was one of those killed in the shooting.

“‘Come get your son’s body.’ That was painful,” Archilles said. “He always make people laugh. He’s always a funny kid.”

Robert Morretti, principal at the school 14-year-old Archilles attended released a statement saying:

“The staff and students at Royal Palm School were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Sean Archilles.  Sean was the kind of young man who could brighten any room with his outgoing personality and contagious smile. He was a friend to all and will be deeply missed by his Royal Palm family.”

Another local mass shooting

Monday’s mass shooting is the second one in Fort Myers in less than a year.

One person was killed and six others were injured in Oct. 2015 after shots were fired during ZombiCon, a Halloween-themed event in downtown Fort Myers.

The Southwest Florida Community Foundation has partnered with the City of Fort Myers and the United Way of Lee, Charlotte, Glades and Okeechobee Counties to open the “Together Fort Myers” fund to help those affected by the ‪‎Club Blu shooting. To donate visit: www.Floridacommunity.com

Anyone with information on the shooting is urged to call Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS (8477).

Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson addressed the Club Blu shooting after a special City council meeting Monday morning:

Lee Memorial Hospital also held a press conference to provide an update on the victims:

Large show of compassion

As the details of the shooting continued to unfold, the Fort Myers community came together in the club parking lot to seek healing and solidarity. Local clergy with the Next Level Church encouraged mourners to love and lean on faith and prayer during the tragedy.

Well-wishers left stuffed animals, flowers and other mementos outside the club, forming an impromptu memorial.

Victims of the Club Blu shooting received large show of local support and that compassion was extended from another nightclub involved in recent bloodshed. Pulse nightclub in Orlando released a statement in solidarity, saying their “hearts weigh heavy.” On June 12, 49 of its patrons were killed in cold blood when a gunmen opened fire.