JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Marquis Williams and Taylor Poindexter at first thought they heard a balloon popping. When the loud bangs kept coming, the Chicago couple and fellow video gamers attending a weekend tournament recognized them as gunfire and began scrambling for an exit.
As he fled, Williams, 28, said, he could see the back of the gunman’s head as the attacker appeared to be walking backward as he fired.
“We didn’t see like a face,” Poindexter, 26, told reporters a few hours after the attack, standing on crutches after spraining her ankle trying to escape. “We did see him with two hands on a gun, walking back just popping rounds.”
The couple said people trampled others in the panic to escape. They ran to a nearby restaurant, where workers were waving people inside, and hid in a bathroom until police arrived.
The deadly violence stunned gamers competing Sunday at the Jacksonville during a “Madden NFL 19” video game tournament. Sheriff Mike Williams said the gunman killed two people and shot 11 others before fatally shooting himself.
The competition, the first of four qualifying events to reach the Madden Championship in October, was held at the Good Luck Have Fun Game Bar that shares space with Chicago Pizza. Viewers could watch the games online and see the players.
Williams said the suspect in Sunday’s shooting was 24-year-old David Katz, of Baltimore.
Williams said authorities believe Katz used a semiautomatic handgun. He said final confirmation of the suspect’s identity was pending as the FBI in Baltimore aided in the investigation.
The sheriff said Katz was attending the tournament in Florida. The Madden game’s maker, EA Sports, lists a Katz as a 2017 championship winner.
Authorities said Sunday they did not yet know a motive for the shootings.
One of nearly a dozen people shot who survived the shooting rampage was Tony Montagnino, who told CBS News that he was shot twice, once in the lower back and once in the leg.
“I can never see his face, because all I can see was the flash from the muzzle of the gun," Montagnino said. “If you would have told me that I was going to get shot playing a video game, I would have called you a liar."
“No one deserves to die over playing a video game, you know?” said “Madden” competitor Derek Jones, 30, of Santa Fe, New Mexico. “I've been telling them this for a while, that we need, you know, you need to make players feel safe."
Jones said he was sitting in a back patio outside the tournament venue when he heard the gunshots Sunday. He jumped a fence and ran, leaving behind his backpack and cellphone.
“You know, I’m glad I lost today,” Jones said. “Because if I’d won, I would have been in that game bar right then playing a game and not paying attention. And he could have come and I’d probably be dead right now.”
Jones said he knew Katz by the gamer tags he used online -- often “Bread” or “Sliced Bread” -- and had played against him online but had never spoken to him personally.
Nine other people wounded by the gunfire were all in stable condition Sunday evening after being taken to hospitals, Williams said. He added that two others were injured in the rush to flee the gunfire.
Investigators were looking into an online video that appeared to capture the scene right before the shooting began, Williams said. A red dot that appears to be a laser pointer is visible on the chest of a player seconds before the first of about a dozen gunshots rings out.
According to the EA sports website, the game’s developer, the top two finishers at the Jacksonville event would earn $5,000 and a spot in Madden Classic year's main event that’s scheduled for October in Las Vegas.
In Las Vegas, competitors will play for a share of the tournament’s $165,000 prize pool, with the winner taking home $25,000.
Jason Lake, the founder and CEO of compLexity, a company that owns professional esports teams, said on Twitter that one of his players, 19-year-old Drini Gjoka, was shot in the thumb.
Gjoka tweeted: “The tourney just got shot up. I'm leaving and never coming back.” Then: “I am literally so lucky. The bullet hit my thumb. Worst day of my life.”
“It’s very clear that we need to be more proactive for 2019 and beyond,” tweeted Joey Cuellar, the tournament director for the Evolution Championship Series, an esports event that focuses on fighting games.
Cuellar said his biggest tournament of the year, EVO18, also in Las Vegas, draws 15,000 players. In March, organizers called the FBI when someone wrote online: “mass shooting @EVO18 see you there.”
The event went off without a hitch, but Cuellar also wrote on Sunday: “The amount of undercover law enforcement at Evo was unprecedented, and we will be installing metal detectors for ALL days next year.”
Security, or lack of it, at gaming tournaments
The past-Madden champion's decision to open fire Sunday afternoon has prompted calls from gamers for more security at esports tournaments.
"Heartbreaking to hear about the shooting at the Madden event," wrote Cristian Tamas, the director of esports programs for Twitch, the platform that broadcasts gamers' live streams. "Unfortunately, this was a matter of when not if. Esport event security, in general, has been extremely poor over the years, we should've stepped it up long ago."
In December, the Call of Duty World League tournament held in Dallas was evacuated -- twice -- due to bomb threats.
Seth Abner, an XGames Gold Medalist and Call of Duty World Champion, wrote on Twitter in the wake of Sunday's shooting: "I've been saying events NEED better security. Such a damn shame that now event coordinators will respond after a tragedy happens."
Marquis Williams said the shooting rampage was another tragic sign that elected officials should take action to curb gun violence.
“Politicians, wake up because the people you’re supposed to be representing are dying,” Williams said. “Quit sitting on your butts. Quit collecting checks and do something.”