PALMETTO -- Through prayer, the laying-on of hands and loud notes on the Shofar, members of the Consuming Fire Deliverance Ministries Inc. sought Sunday to drive the devil out of the night club where two people were killed and 22 were wounded by gunfire a day earlier.
At least two shooters remain at large, deputies say. They opened fire at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday into a crowd standing in front of Club Elite, 704 10th St. W.
“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.
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 two AK-47s, an AR-15 and possibly a handgun were used in the shooting.
Trayon Goff, 25, of Palmetto, was shot and killed outside the club’s front door.
Gwenette Matthews, 38, of Bradenton, was found shot to death inside the club.
Goff had a felony conviction of sale of cocaine, according to court documents. He was just released from jail Sept. 5 after being arrested on driving without a license charge, following a previous conviction.
Matthews’ family could not be reached for comment. She was a certified nursing assistant and had no criminal convictions, according to the Intellius website.
The 22 people who were wounded range in age from 21 to 55. Most were in their late 30s or mid-40s. Many live in Manatee County. Of the six taken Saturday to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, only two remained hospitalized, officials said. All the other victims were treated at Manate Memorial Hospital.
As of Sunday evening, police had no suspects in the case.
“We’re working on some leads, but I have no names to give you,” Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells said earlier Sunday. “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.”
Davis and his congregation prayed for gang members anyway, as well as for the victims, their families and an end to the violence.
“We pray for the families who are grieving, oh God, and we pray they will allow You to be the avenger and that they will not seek retaliation,” Davis said. “In the name of Jesus, stop the violence.”
After the sidewalk service, Davis said the night club should remain closed unless changes are made.
“If it is to reopen, it should be a place of restoration,” he said. “It can reopen, but the owners need to turn it around.”
Mickey Presha, chief executive officer of Manatee County Rural Health, owns the property. After he learned of the shootings Saturday, he said he had “not slept a wink.”
Presha said Sunday the decision to close or reopen the building will be up to the lease holder.
“I respect their (the church’s) opinion about it, but the building didn’t shoot anybody,” Presha said. “The guy who did the dastardly deed was a human being. I respect their opinion. I think they should pray for whatever they think is correct.”
The night club was the scene of another homicide that occurred last year. And three months ago, Wells said, a woman discharged a pistol into the ceiling.
“Outside of a few incidents we’ve had in the last several years, for the most part it’s a club that has had limited issues,” he said. “We don’t receive many calls from them. It’s not a weekly occurrence.”
Wells’ department will be meeting with the club’s owners, according to Palmetto Police Lt. Scott Tyler.
“We will reach out to them, talk safety and security, make sure the dialogue is open,” Tyler said. “We don’t want this to happen again.”
Like his boss, Tyler was reluctant to characterize Club Elite as a problem.
“A night club or bar has more calls for service than a MacDonald’s,” Tyler pointed out.
Wells said investigators recovered about 70 to 80 spent 7.62 x 39mm and 5.56mm cartridge cases. He confirmed Sunday the weapons were likely semi-automatic rather than fully automatic.
He’s not sure whether any one specific victim was targeted by the suspects, or whether the gunmen just sprayed into 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.
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.