Tallahassee Florida Yoga Studio Mass Shooting: Two killed and four injured

Update: Names of two killed at Tallahassee yoga studio, identity of shooter released

Karl Etters
Tallahassee Democrat

The two people killed at Hot Yoga Tallahassee have been identified as Dr. Nancy Van Vessem, 61, and Maura Binkley, 21. Tallahassee Democrat

1 a.m.update:

The two people killed at Hot Yoga Tallahassee have been identified as Dr. Nancy Van Vessem, 61, and Maura Binkley, 21.

The shooter was identified as 40-year-old Scott Paul Beierle, according to the Tallahassee Police Department.

Van Vessem was internist who served as chief medical director for Capital Health Plan.
“Our Capital Health Plan family is deeply shocked and saddened about the tragic loss of our beloved friend and colleague, Dr. Nancy Van Vessem, among the other victims of this terrible incident,” CHP said in a statement.

“As CHP’s longtime chief medical director, Nancy has been a guiding, visionary force in our daily work to serve the wellness and health care needs of thousands of families in this community. Her dedication, caring, leadership, humanity, and experience made her one of the most respected, inspiring, and accomplished medical professionals in the state and country. Our hearts are filled with sorrow and prayers for her family. We all have been so blessed to have Nancy in our lives.”

Both Binkley and Van Vessem had ties to Florida State University. President John Thrasher issued a statement expressing bereavement over their losses.

“There are no words to express the shock and grief we feel after learning of the deaths of Maura Binkley and Dr. Nancy Van Vessem,” Thrasher said. “To lose one of our students and one of our faculty members in this tragic and violent way is just devastating to the Florida State University family. We feel this loss profoundly and we send our deepest sympathies to Maura’s and Nancy’s loved ones while we pray for the recovery of those who were injured.”

Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo said the efforts or first responders, volunteers and others on Friday taps into what it means to live in Tallahassee.

“I’m very proud of how our community rallies together in really strange, critical and understandably some scary times,” he said shortly before 1 a.m. “But the fact is, look at the resiliency of the spirit. The fact that we had people fight this attacker to help save other people and prevent him from doing further harm really speaks to the true spirit of Tallahassee and what this community is about.”

A sad day for our city: 

Original story:

A Friday evening of unwinding, dinner and cocktails at an upscale Midtown shopping enclave was shattered by an unidentified assailant who walked into a yoga studio and began shooting.

Two people were fatally wounded before he turned the gun on himself. At least four others were shot and one was pistol-whipped, Tallahassee Police Chief Michael DeLeo said. One wounded victim was shot nine times; another had a bullet pass through her. Both were said to be in “good spirits.”

City spokeswoman Alison Faris confirmed the shooter at Hot Yoga Tallahassee died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after the incident at the yoga studio located on the second floor of the Betton Place shopping complex on the corner of Thomasville and Bradford roads.

The gunman has been tentatively identified but his name has not been released.

“The main focus for us is positively identifying the suspect and what his link to our victims is,” DeLeo said at a 10 p.m. briefing.

The Tallahassee Police Department is investigating a shooting at Tallahassee HotYoga near the corner of East Bradford and Thomasville roads in Midtown Tallahassee, Fla. Friday, Nov. 2, 2018.
The Tallahassee Police Department is investigating a shooting at Tallahassee HotYoga near the corner of East Bradford and Thomasville roads in Midtown Tallahassee, Fla. Friday, Nov. 2, 2018.  (Photo: Karl Etters/Tallahassee Democrat.

Other media outlets including the Washington Post reported Mayor Andrew Gillum’s chief of staff Jamie Van Pelt said the incident appeared to be part of a domestic dispute, but he told the Tallahassee Democrat no motive had been confirmed.

There were 11 people signed up for the 5:30 p.m. hot yoga flow class and one canceled earlier in the day, a source said. The class instructor is said to have been uninjured.

The 911 call came in at 5:37 p.m. DeLeo said officers arrived within three minutes to find the gunman dead. By 10 p.m., at least 40 witnesses had been interviewed.

City Commissioner Scott Maddox was among the many city officials who immediately went to the scene.

“In my public service career, I have had to be on some bad scenes. This is the worst. Please pray,” Maddox posted on Facebook. “Have no words to express the sadness I feel. How do you make sense of a senseless act of evil? We must continue to talk to our children. Be kind to one another.”

Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox called for unity.

“I ask that our community come together in an effort to support the victims and families affected with love, prayer, and empathy,” he said. “May our love and prayers comfort them during this time that they so desperately need it.”

Map: 2018 shootings in Tallahassee

A gubernatorial campaign interrupted

Alex Redding was in the Bar at Betton downstairs at the shopping center when a woman ran in hyperventilating followed by a man with blood on his head. Redding said two to three other people entered the bar seeking help and said a tall man with a beard was inside the Hot Yoga studio acting strange and began shooting during the class.

The man with blood on his head told the patrons he tried to stop the shooter but was pistol-whipped before the man shot himself.

The incident swiftly interrupted the gubernatorial campaign of Mayor Gillum, who was joined by former President Barack Obama earlier in the day in South Florida. Gillum tweeted he was “deeply appreciative of law enforcement’s quick response to the shooting at the yoga facility in Tallahassee today.”

“No act of gun violence is acceptable,” he wrote. “I’m in close communication with law enforcement officials and will be returning to Tallahassee tonight.”

About three hours after the shooting, Gillum’s Republican rival Ron DeSantis tweeted: “The news of the shooting in Tallahassee is heartbreaking. Casey and I are praying for the families of the victim whose life was tragically taken tonight and those taken to the hospital with injuries.”

When the crime was reported, dozens of police cruisers and other emergency vehicles raced to the scene from all over the city. Shortly after the shooting, Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate, spoke to DeLeo, Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen.

“I have been briefed by FDLE and local law enforcement regarding the shooting in Tallahassee,” he tweeted. “FDLE is on the scene and assisting local police. I will remain in constant communication with law enforcement. We have offered state assistance.”

Kristin Jacobs represents the Broward County community of Parkland in the Legislature, which nine months ago saw a shooter kill 17 students and school employees at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. She was at the Bar at Betton at an office party when the gunfire erupted and a stream of people started running in from the nearby yoga studio.

She recounted how the man who was pistol-whipped said he rushed the shooter, and and then the man turned the gun on himself. DeLeo said there is evidence that victims and others at the yoga studio fought back.

“Many people are alive because this guy rushed the shooter,” Jacobs said. “I am alive because one guy in a yoga class in his bare feet ran at a shooter. He didn’t run away.”

More: Andrew Gillum to return to Tallahassee in wake of shooting at yoga studio

A witness at Bar at Betton saw three wounded people taken from the Hot Yoga studio. Karl Etters, Democrat staff writer

Witness accounts: ‘Pop, pop, pop’

Megan Nixon was eating downstairs at Riccardo’s Restaurant when she heard the commotion at the yoga studio upstairs.

“We heard pop, pop, pop. It sounded intense,” Nixon said. About 30 seconds later, she saw two young women run into Bar at Betton next door. Then, she saw a guy, bloodied, run in.

“The gun shot six or seven times. I saw five different ambulances picking people up,” she said. “It’s scary it’s so close to home.”

Nixon said the owner of the restaurant locked the door to protect those inside. She struggled to understand the events that interrupted what was supposed to be a family evening out.

“It’s so terrible. Why would he have skipped all the other business and go up to the Yoga studio?” Nixon asked. “It’s terrible. It’s hard when you have a 2-year-old. I hate this for Tallahassee. I hate this for these girls.”

Shanta Combs was sitting at the Bar on Betton having drinks with her boyfriend and a friend when the chaos erupted.

“It’s a little surreal still,” she said. “It’s still hard to wrap your brain around, you know?”

Everything happened so quickly, Combs said. First, the girl ran in breathing heavily, like she is in labor. Then someone yelled, “‘Oh my god he’s bleeding.’ I am right at the end of the bar and see this kid in a white t-shirt with blood coming out of his forehead.”

Almost simultaneously she said a bartender yelled, “‘Active shooter. Active shooter. Get down. Get away from the window!'” Then everyone got off their stools and scrambled on their knees back to the kitchen area.

Combs hugged the first girl who came into the bar.

“It was so chaotic,” Combs said.

Police gathered eyewitnesses in the courtyard, sent the injured off in ambulances and others to another location. Police dogs outside were looking for shell casings, as forensic teams came in.

Time became irrelevant, Combs said.

“We stayed inside and commiserated,” she said. “There was a lot of hugging, a lot of crying, a lot of thank yous, and holy shits among total strangers tonight. You don’t witness something like that.”

Allison Tant, former chair of the state Democratic Party, normally goes to the 5:30 Friday Hot Yoga class but at the last minute got invited to an event at the Ronald McDonald House.

“That’s my yoga studio,” Tant said Friday night.

She’d been going there since after the 2016 presidential election “to find some peace.”

“This just really devastates me,” Tant said.

Her heart went out to studio owner Brittani Whittington, who Tant said was at a certification class at the time of the shooting.

“She does so much for so many people who go there,” said Tant, distraught. “Why do we have to start from a place where no place is safe?”

About three hours after the shooting, two yoga instructors stood across the street behind the police tape watching lights flash outside of their studio. Tears poured down their faces. They were not ready to talk.

Democrat reporters Jeffrey Schweers, James Call, Ashley White and Byron Dobson contributed to this report.


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