(Reuters) – A gunman opened fire in a Florida yoga studio on Friday, shooting six people and killing two of them before class members fought back and the attacker killed himself, police and authorities said.
Police received a call at 5:37 p.m. of multiple victims at the Hot Yoga studio at an upscale shopping center in Florida’s capital, Tallahassee, Police Chief Michael DeLeo told reporters.
The shooter pistol-whipped one man in the yoga class who rushed him after he opened fire, the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported.
“There were indications that several people not only fought back but tried to save other people,” DeLeo told reporters, confirming that one man was pistol-whipped.
Tallahassee Police identified the shooter early Saturday morning as 40-year-old Scott Paul Beierle, 40.
The two who were killed were identified as 61-year-old Dr. Nancy Van Vessem and 21-year-old Maura Binkley.
The gunman appeared to have acted alone and there was no immediate threat to the Tallahassee community, DeLeo said.
Police said Friday night they tentatively identified the shooter and are looking for any links between him and the victims, he added.
“All evidence points to a single actor who has stayed on scene and is deceased at this time so there is no additional threat to the public,” DeLeo said. City Commissioner Scott Maddox was among officials who went to the incident.
“In my public service career, I have had to be on some bad scenes. This is the worst. Please pray,” Maddox posted on Facebook.
Alex Redding, a patron at a bar downstairs from the studio, said people came inside seeking assistance, saying a man had been acting strangely inside the yoga studio and then began shooting during the class, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.
Other victims, barefoot from their yoga class, came into the bar in clear shock and barely able to speak anything but the word “shooter,” the newspaper reported.
Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic nominee for state governor, halted campaigning to return to the city.
“No act of gun violence is acceptable,” Gillum tweeted.
Tallahassee’s murder rate has been an issue in the governor’s race, with Gillum’s opponent Republican former U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis accusing him of being weak on crime.
Megan Nixon said she was eating at a restaurant underneath the studio when she heard shooting and people running upstairs.
“The gun shot six or seven times. I saw five different ambulances picking people up,” she told the Tallahassee Democrat. “It’s scary it’s so close to home.”
The Tallahassee Democrat reported Van Vessem was an internist who served as chief medical director for Capital Health Plan, which issued a statement early Saturday praising Van Vessem.
“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,” the company said.
Florida State University President John Thrasher said Van Vessem and Binkley had ties to the university, the Democrat reported.
“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,” Thrasher said in a Saturday statement.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Kim Coghill)