Two people were shot and eight were taken into custody after a chaotic series of shootings that rattled Memorial Day beachgoers Monday evening on Clearwater Beach.
Hours after the shootings began outside the Clearwater Beach Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa, police were still trying to unravel what happened and determine whether anyone involved was still at large. The inbound spans of the two bridges to the beach were kept closed to all but local residents until about 10 p.m.
“Even as we speak, we’re trying to search and clear out rooms of the hotel,” Clearwater Public Safety Spokesperson Joelle Castelli said. “We’re trying to clear out (floors) of the parking garage. There are different places south of the Hyatt where we’ve had shootings, so we’re trying to make sure everything is back to normal and safe.”
Castelli said the incident began around 6:45 p.m. as a fight outside the parking garage of the Hyatt and moved to areas south. One person was shot in the hand and fled. Another was struck in the groin and was transported to a local hospital. No other injuries were reported.
“We had two people who were arguing,” Castelli said. “One was in the temporary lot that just north of the Hyatt, and the other was on the street. Then someone ran off and came back with a gun.
“Then somebody was in the parking garage of the Hyatt, shooting down at the temporary parking lot. And we then had multiple scenes. We have at least three different shooting scenes.”
The shootings brought out a large law enforcement presence, including a SWAT team, and several emergency vehicles on a busy and festive holiday evening.
Witnesses described a frightening scene.
“We were all having a good time, and then all of a sudden, everyone started running and screaming,” beachgoer Stephanie Yglesias said. “We were told to get into our cars immediately and take cover, so that’s what we did. We got into our cars, and by that time, there were cops surrounding the parking garage with guns in their hands.”
Nicole Watson, another beachgoer who happens to work as a producer at Bay News 9, said she and friends were leaving the beach just as a fight that apparently stemmed from the original shooting broke out.
She said her they had left their parking spot near the Hyatt when they noticed a rush of police activity.
“There were probably 10 to 20 guys fighting on the sidewalk in front of us,” she said. “And police officers were running toward that scene. So we quickly made a U-turn, and that’s when we saw an injured man lying on the sidewalk with a police officer assisting him. We also saw a girl crying over him and shouting, ‘why did you have to hurt him?’ “
Castelli said police are assuming that all of those involved live in the Tampa Bay area and that the possibility the shootings were gang-related hasn’t been ruled out. She said multiple weapons were recovered and multiple weapons charges will be forthcoming.
“We haven’t fully figured out who is who in this scenario, but we’re actively working it right now,” she said.
The Hyatt is located in the heart of Clearwater Beach, at 301 S Gulfview Blvd. It’s believed that one of other shooting locations was near the beach’s popular Pier 60.