A year later, questions remain for Zombicon victims

Expavious Tyrell Taylor’s phone number is still programmed into his grandmother’s phone.

Estella Wilson hasn’t dialed it in a year, but she can’t bring herself to delete it.

“If I take it off, I’m closing the book,” Wilson said.

Taylor was killed in Fort Myers a year ago Monday when bullets sprayed a crowd of festival-goers at the Ninth Annual Zombicon. The horror-themed block party was one of the most popular celebrations in Southwest Florida, last year welcoming 20,000 attendees, mostly young adults, to downtown for what was supposed to be a good time.

But instead of a good time, at 11:45 p.m. as the event was winding down somebody began firing into the thinning crowd.

Since then, Fort Myers police have looked at hundreds of pictures and video for clues. They've interviewed hundreds of witnesses, but the investigation has been fruitless, yielding zero arrests.

Crime Stoppers has received about 150 tips, not counting tips that have gone directly to the Fort Myers Police Department, said Crime Stoppers Coordinator Trish Routte. The $36,000 reward has got them no closer to finding the shooter.

Six others were injured and are recovering from the lingering physical and mental scars from a night that shook a community and brought unwanted national attention to the city.

The lawsuits that followed also are a reminder a year later.

Four lawsuits were filed – one of them on behalf of 70-year-old Wilson – alleging that festival organizer nonprofit Pushing Daizies and its security company, Southwest Florida Security & Investigations, failed to keep people safe. They are headed for mediation on Nov. 8, court records show. They’ve been consolidated for discovery to save cost and time.

“I’m just pissed off,” Wilson said recently outside the Clewiston home she shares with relatives. “It ain’t easy.”

“I will never get over it.”

In addition to Wilson’s $5 million wrongful death lawsuit, David Perez and his girlfriend Kaddiamy Baruh, both 23, have sued alleging Pushing Daizies and Southwest Florida Security & Investigations failed to provide safety. Perez spent about a month in the hospital after suffering wounds to his hands. Baruh realized after the shooting that a bullet grazed her leg. Kyle Roberts, a Florida Gulf Coast University student shot through the right hand, has also sued.

Attempts to reach the three of them were unsuccessful.

Others injured that night include 21-year-old Tyree Hunter, 19-year-old Isaiah Knight and John Parsons, whose age is unknown.

Pushing Daizies and Southwest Florida Security & Investigations place the blame on the shooting’s victims, documents show.

In the case of Taylor, he conducted “himself in a careless and negligent manner.”

Pushing Daizies’ lawyers characterize Taylor, Perez, Baruh and Roberts as trespassers at Zombicon, court filings show. They argue the organization is not responsible for them because they were trespassing on First Street — a public area — at the time of the shooting.

The security company alleges they had no way of knowing an unknown assailant would shoot at the crowd. It also argues they were only there to provide protection to property.

Wilson’s lawyer Charles “Kip” Sinclair declined to comment when reached Thursday.

“I don’t want to be commenting on the case at this time,” Sinclair said.

Perez and Baruh’s attorney, Jack Morgan, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Scot Goldberg, who is representing Roberts, of Port Charlotte, said he hopes to get the issue resolved during the November mediation.

He said Roberts has problems with his wrist and nerve tissue.

“He’s young and he’s recovered well,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg said it’s a ridiculous claim to make that the victims were trespassing and acted carelessly.

“They should have to answer why they would allege they are trespassing or were negligent themselves,” Goldberg said.

Angeli Chin, spokeswoman for Pushing Daizies, referred questions to the organization's attorney. Pushing Daizies said in September the festival will no longer take place.

Joseph M. Sette, an attorney representing Pushing Daizies, declined to comment Thursday.

Jesse P. Morgan, the owner of Southwest Florida Security & Investigations, answered his phone Thursday and identified himself as Morgan.

"It shut my whole company down and it almost bankrupted me because of this stupid thing that happened," Morgan said before saying he declined to comment.

The company owner than denied he was Morgan before ending the phone call.

Lingering effects

Hunter, a senior at FGCU, said he runs into Roberts on campus. The two talk about the night of the shooting sometimes. People often stop them to take pictures, Hunter said.

His leg, where he was shot, still bothers him. Standing causes it to tighten up, he said.

“You get a little anxiety being around a lot of crowds,” Hunter said.

He took his summer vacation off to spend it with his parents in San Antonio, Texas.
“That’s why I went over the summer and decompressed,” he said. “It helped coming into this semester just being more positive and just better.”

Hunter said he doesn’t dwell on the shooting, nor does he wonder if anyone will be arrested.

“It’s like crazy,” he said.

Wilson still thinks about losing Taylor and all his potential in life.

Taylor played football for Clewiston High School his senior year and then went to play for ASA College, in Miami, as an offensive lineman. Both schools mourned his passing. ASA, the junior college, gave his family one of his game balls and memorabilia to mark his death.

Taylor, who went by Tyrell, was one of many grandchildren for Wilson, but she just knew he was going places.

“Tyrell was a busy little something,” she said. “He would join into everything. He played soccer, basketball, football. He beat them tiny little bongo drums. He was pretty good.”

Wilson pushed the children in her family to grow and explore places. She wanted Taylor to go to school in Kentucky, but he chose Miami, a city she feels a bit weary of.

“He said he wanted to be all over the world,” Wilson said. “I always wanted all my kids to explore things, go places.”

Don’t get married too young, she would say to them.

“I always liked them to go and see places because I couldn’t,” she said.

Taylor was well on his way to that, she said. But then he died, bleeding out as he wore a clown mask on a downtown Fort Myers street. He died in a town where Wilson knows police have a hard time getting the public to cooperate with tips and information.

Fort Myers police Chief Derrick Diggs, who was not on the job when Zombicon made headlines last year, declined an interview request through a spokesman.

Wilson said the police department hasn’t been as communicative as she would like. She said she’s watched on the news as Diggs talks about the distrust between police and community in Fort Myers and she hopes he can rectify relationships to bring her some closure.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I probably won’t know until they find out the truth. I don’t know if we are ever going to get the truth.”

Crime Stoppers still holds out hope.

"We are really hoping that when people remember that Monday is the one-year mark that it will encourage folks who haven't come forward, for whatever reason, to reconsider, have a change of heart and step up to help bring our entire community closure and justice," Routte said. "It's never too late to do the right thing."

The Crime Stoppers hotline is 1-800-780-TIPS (8477).  Anyone with information leading to an arrest in this particular case is eligible for $36,000; $35,000 of which is being provided by the Fort Myers Police Department and the FBI, and $1,000 from Crime Stoppers.

 

RELATED STORIES:

Fort Myers police seek vital Zombicon tipster

Police still looking for ZombiCon shooting tipster

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