A California man who played video games to earn money for college and a West Virginian whose e-sports winnings helped support his young family were slain at a Florida tournament where a gunman specifically targeted fellow gamers, authorities said Monday.
David Katz, 24, of Baltimore fatally shot himself after killing the two men and wounding 10 others Sunday inside a pizzeria and bar that were hosting a “Madden NFL 19” tournament. Katz was among about 130 gamers attending the competition at a mall in Jacksonville.
Court records in Maryland reviewed by The Associated Press show Katz had previously been hospitalized for mental illness. Divorce filings from his parents say that as an adolescent he was twice hospitalized in psychiatric facilities and was prescribed antipsychotic and antidepressant medications.
Katz carried two handguns, including one equipped with a laser sight, into the tournament venue but only fired one of them, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told a news conference Monday. He said surveillance video revealed Katz was the only shooter, but his motive remains unknown. “The suspect clearly targeted other gamers who were in the back room” of the pizzeria, Williams said. “The suspect walked past patrons who were in other parts of the business and focused his attention on the gamers.”
Investigators determined Katz bought both guns in Baltimore within the past month. But Williams said there’s no indication he planned the shooting before Sunday.
In a statement Monday evening EA CEO Andrew Wilson said he is cancelling the remaining qualifier events to focus on safety. “We have made a decision to cancel our three remaining Madden Classic qualifier events while we run a comprehensive review of safety protocols for competitors and spectators.”
The sheriff had previously said nine people were wounded by gunfire but told reporters Monday the total was 10. All of them, he said, was expected to recover.
The sheriff’s office identified the dead as 22-year-old Elijah Clayton of Woodland Hills, California, and 28-year-old Taylor Robertson of Giles, West Virginia. Clayton’s parents and other relatives gathered outside police headquarters Monday in Jacksonville to give a brief statement. A cousin, Brandi Pettijohn, said the family was “devastated by yet another senseless act of gun violence.” She said Clayton was a good, peaceful man who never had a fistfight.
“He loved football, and out of all the video games he could play, he settled on and mastered ‘Madden,'” Pettijohn said. “He made a good living gaming, and he saved his earnings so he could afford to go to college to continue his education.”
Robertson, who used the gamer tag “Spotmeplzzz,” won the Madden Classic tournament in 2016. In a YouTube interview published by EA Sports, Robertson said he had played Madden NFL since he was 10 and started playing competitively a few years ago. “It’s certainly possible for any player to do this,” Robertson said in the video. “You’ve just got to put in the time. You’ve got to grind. You’ve got to play a lot of games and just working on getting better.”
Fellow gamers described Robertson as a family man dedicated to his wife and children. Gamer Derek Jones, who lost to Robertson in the 2016 tournament, said his onetime rival was “one of the nicest people I ever met.” “There’s no way that guy did anything to deserve to get shot,” said Jones, who travelled to the Florida tournament from Santa Fe, New Mexico. “He’s got a family at home, and he just came out here to try to win some money for this family.”
Gamer Shay Kivlen of Seattle said he met Clayton, whose gamer tag was Trueboy, about five years ago. They bonded because both of them played games on a PlayStation 4 — which put them at odds with many gamers who prefer Microsoft’s Xbox.
The two friends would chat daily online and see each other about six times a year at gaming tournaments. About a week before the Florida shootings, Kivlen said, he was visiting San Diego and Clayton drove 2 ½ hours in rush hour traffic to meet him. “He was one of the kindest people, most genuine guys I’ve ever met,” said Kivlen, 21. “He was super real, and that’s what I loved about him. If he was happy, you knew he was happy. He wore his emotions on his sleeve.”
Kivlen and Jones said they barely knew Katz, who seemed to avoid conversation with fellow players during tournaments. Katz’s gameplay was often erratic, Kivlen said. “He would do kind of weird stuff online that other people wouldn’t do. He would catch a ball and just start jumping out of bounds and stuff when he could have gotten more yards, just hurting himself,” Kivlen said. “I don’t know what he was doing.”
Kivlen, who said he had once beaten Katz for a coveted spot in a tournament, heard secondhand from a friend that Katz was asking for his whereabouts shortly before the shooting. After losing his single-elimination game Sunday, Kivlen said, he left to take a nap at his hotel about 20 minutes before the attack. He was watching a live stream of the tournament online when the gunfire erupted.
A friend hiding in a bathroom at the venue answered his phone. When he said Kivlen may have been a target, Kivlen called the police and an officer was sent to his hotel room for about 90 minutes until they received word that the gunman was dead. “It just doesn’t make sense why he would do it,” Kivlen said. “In ‘Madden,’ you never get so mad at a loss that you would want to do that.”