JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Sunday night concert to see rap artist Toosii perform ended in chaos before it began.
Hundreds of young people and a few of their parents were waiting outside of the venue at Sk8 City Fun Zone in Regency Court Plaza when the event reached capacity.
Excelsior Security Agency, the security company for the property owner, was helping with traffic control and parking lot issues but were told that Sk8 City Fun Zone and the promoter had hired their own security. When the crowd size kept growing and they saw the potential for safety issues, Excelsior senior staff called for the Jacksonville fire marshal at 7:50 p.m. -- asking for the event to be shut down.
“We needed someone to come out there due to the unsafe conditions. We worked with the Sheriff’s Office to shut it down safely,” a spokesperson with Excelsior Security Agency told News4Jax.
Just after making that call, gunshots rang out in the parking lot of the strip mall at the corner of Atlantic Boulevard and Arlington Expressway, according to the agency and witnesses at the event.
Posts on social media show crowds of people running and describing mayhem in the area.
“It done got real,” one parent is heard saying on a Facebook Live. “Someone started shooting out here. It’s time to go.”
She and others took refuge in the Longhorn Steakhouse across the parking lot.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office incident report said officers were dispatched at 8:04 p.m. and officers heard shots fired and saw people running and screaming.
“We were unable to locate or identify the person that shot the rounds due to the crowd of people,” one officer wrote.
Excelsior said the fire marshal arrived at about 8:30 p.m. and worked with JSO and private security officers to decided to close the parking lot and remove anyone not in the line to the concert designated by the event staff.
News4Jax cameras captured one woman in distress being taken to a squad car in handcuffs. Excelsior said two people were detained but referred all questions to the JSO.
The police report said there were no injuries or property damage, but five shell casings were located near the UPS store in the complex. JSO has not provided any information about anyone arrested but the report did say the person who fired the shots could not be located in the crowd.
Excelsior said the situation was under control by 11 p.m. and the majority of people on the property were gone.
Just before midnight, Toosii posted on Twitter: “Internet be lying,” but it was not known what information the artist was referencing.
The owner of Sk8City said everything inside the building stayed peaceful despite the turbulence outside. Because of COVID-19 concerns, capacity was limited to 300.
“As you can see, this is a 40,000 square-foot facility. Three hundred people, it looks like 10 people in here,” partner Terry Harris said.
News4Jax crime and safety expert said police did the right thing forcing the crowd to clear out.
“It’s important for public safety reasons when you’ve got a mass crowd of people idle, hanging out,” Jefferson said. “It can create chaos and it’s exactly what it did.”
Not only were there concerns from the gunfire and chaos, but video of so many people in that parking lot -- a lot of them not wearing face masks -- also caused health concerns.
“It is concerning when people are getting together that do not live in the same household, because that is where this virus flourishes,” said infectious disease specialist Mohammed Reza. “It’s that person-to-person contact that is so important to avoid at this time.”
Reza said that while teenagers don’t have severe symptoms from COVID-19, they could spread it to their parents or grandparents, who might not be as lucky.
“It’s not about them. It’s not about me. It’s about us -- it’s about society. It’s about my dad. It’s about my grandparents who are older than 65 or have underlining health conditions,” Reza said.