UPDATE: Police say AK-47s used in Palmetto night club shooting

lwilliams@bradenton.comSeptember 11, 2011 

PALMETTO -- Police believe one or possibly two AK-47s were used in the shooting that killed two and wounded 22 others outside a Palmetto night club early Saturday.

At least two shooters opened fire at about 12:30 a.m. on a crowd standing in front of Club Elite, 704 10th St. West.

As of Sunday morning, police have no suspects in the case.

“We’re working on some leads, but I have no names to give you,” said Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells. “We don’t have any confirmed suspects.”

He declined to discuss the suspects’ motive.

“I will hold comment on that at this time, until we talk to a few more of our witnesses,” he said.

He did, however, rule out gang involvement.

“I do not believe it is gang-related,” he said. “The information we have gathered up to this point does not include any documented gang members.”

Wells said suspects fired 70 to 80 rounds at the hundreds of people gathered inside and outside the club.

Trayon Goff, 25, of Palmetto, was shot and killed outside the club’s front door.

Gwenette Matthews, 38, of Bradenton, was found dead inside the club.

At least 22 other people were hit by gunfire during the attack. The six most seriously wounded were taken to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Another 16 persons were treated at Manatee Memorial Hospital.

Wells said Sunday morning none of the wounded is in jeopardy.

Later Sunday, members of the Consuming Fire Deliverance Ministries Inc. sought to drive the devil out of the night club where two people were killed and 22 were wounded by gunfire a day earlier.

“Even though it’s the commemoration of 9/11, we had a 9/11 here in Palmetto,” said Apostle Al Davis, who leads the church group.

Davis and his parishioners prayed for justice amid a small pool of dried blood and circles of orange paint that marked the spots where shell casings were found.

They linked hands, forming a large 40-person prayer circle on the sidewalk in front of the club. They then placed their hands on the bullet-scarred building.

“We ask, Oh God, that you shut this place down,” Davis prayed.

Investigators recovered approximately 70 to 80 spent 7.62 x 39mm cartridge cases, Wells said. He confirmed Sunday the weapons were likely semi-automatic.

The front doors of the club had been pierced by seven bullets from at least two different caliber weapons. There were small adhesive rulers, used by crime scene photographers to determine scale, still afixed to the door.

There were bullet holes on the front of the nightclub, which faces south toward 10th Street, and on the east side. The heavy-caliber rounds punched clean holes through the masonry walls.

Police believe one or possibly two AK-47s, an AR-15 and possibly a handgun were used in the shooting.

Wells said he is not sure whether any one victim was targeted by the suspects, or whether they just sprayed the crowd.

“I have to reserve comment on that,” he said. “We’re still gathering intelligence on that part. “

Despite the fact that two dozen people were hit by gunfire, Wells said the death toll could have been worse.

“We were very fortunate that more of the victims were not critically wounded,” he said. “It’s a tragic event. These criminals have a total disregard for anyone at all -- regardless if they had a specific target. If you have a weapon like that, you know the rounds can penetrate doors and walls. They had no concern about that.”

The case is also being investigated by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, who is working with the four detectives and five officers Wells assigned to the investigation.

“The county is working on any information that we develop going on outside the city,” he said. “We’re working together as we follow up leads.”

Manatee County’s Gold Star Club has offered a $10,000 reward for information in this case, Wells said.

Anyone with information about the crime can call the Palmetto Police Department at (941) 723-4587 or Manatee County Crime Stoppers at (866) 634-8477.

Callers may remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward.

Lee Williams, Herald investigative reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7041.

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