Families of Club Elite victims handle losses 'one day at a time'

ejohnson@bradenton.comSeptember 10, 2012 

Day 2 of a two-part series marking one year since the Club Elite shootings in Palmetto

By ELIZABETH JOHNSON

ejohnson@bradenton.com

PALMETTO -- Trayon Goff Jr. and Gwenette Matthews were gunned down Sept. 10, 2011, while at Club Elite in Palmetto, leaving their families to recover "one day at a time."

"The loss was devastating," said Vicky Matthews, a year after her sister's death. "We have our good days and we have our bad days."

Gwenette Matthews' children have been living with an aunt since the largest shooting in Manatee County history claimed their mother's life.

"They're doing the best they can do," Vicky Matthews said.

When she learned a stray bullet fired from a passing vehicle struck her sister inside the nightclub, Vicky Matthews felt "empty." She avoids driving by the building, now a seafood restaurant at 704 10th St. W.

"She was my sister and my friend," she said of 38-year-old Gwenette Matthews. "We're a big family, but we're a close family. There is an emptiness there."

Gwenette Matthews' pastor, Kevin Washington from Life Changers International World Ministries in Palmetto, said the family has a strong support system backed by a praying church.

"We're praying that this is resolved," Washington said. "We know things take time. Within this first year, they've done well. It's not easy dealing with the loss of a loved one."

Vicky Matthews said family and friends will gather privately to remember the one-year anniversary of her sister's death.

"My sister was a very friendly and loving person," she said. "Her friends miss her as much as her family misses her. Anything we do in her honor is an overflow of people. She was well-loved."

Vicky Matthews prays that God changes the hearts of people who could share information with police regarding the tragedy.

"We can rest. We can have closure" only when arrests are made, she said.

Goff's family could not be reached as the one-year anniversary approached.

Washington said churches and law enforcement are working to foster better relationships with the community to create security and cooperation.

"I know a lot of churches have come together to try and speak with one voice that we would like to see the violence cease," he said.

Washington hopes the message will be heard by those aware of details surrounding the incident.

"We want to encourage them to come forward and be able to support one another without fear," he said. "We just continue to try to build that relationship with our law enforcement, to understand they can provide what needs to be provided to make them feel safe -- that their families will not encounter retaliation because of their confessions of knowledge."

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.

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