CORAL GABLES, Fla. – Police officers closed the Shops at Merrick Park after a former Equinox Fitness Club employee shot and killed a gym manager, wounded a fitness manager and killed himself Saturday in Coral Gables.
Coral Gables Police Chief Edward Hudak said the former employee targeted the two victims after a managerial dispute at the luxury gym.
Former Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, a member of the gym, identified the gunman as Abeku Wilson, whom he described as having "great manners" and being "a very nice man." Actor Christian de la Fuente referred to Wilson as "my brother and trainer" on Instagram and was at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Wilson,33, was terminated from his position Saturday due to work place violence and was escorted off the premise. He then returned to the gym with a hand gun and shot and killed Janine Ackerman, 35, and injured Mario Hortis, 42.
"When I heard about the shooting, I really thought he was the victim," said Marvin Henderson, who went to the University of Miami with him. "I am really having trouble accepting that he did this. He was just not that guy."
Wilson was a former employee of the Biltmore Hotel's fitness center in Coral Gables. His posts on Instagram show he was a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blue belt and practiced Muay Thai. He was also a regular RX Muscle contestant.
"He was a good man, a loyal friend," Michael De La Pava, one of Abeku's best friends, wrote on Facebook.
Witnesses at Soul Cycle, the Villagio Restaurant and the Yard House reported hearing the gun shots Wilson fired at the second-floor gym about 1 p.m. Former University of Miami baseball standout Javy Rodriguez said he was inside the gym, ran to safety and helped others get out of the building.
"Equinox workers did an amazing job of calmly ... getting the rest out of there," Rodriguez said.
A Coral Gables police officer was on the property and ran to the fitness center, Miami-Dade Detective Alvaro Zabaleta said.
The officer saw "people running and subsequently was advised by mall security personnel that a shooting was in progress," Coral Gables Police Officer Kelly Denham said in a statement.
Coral Gables and Miami police officers quickly surrounded the mall at 358 San Lorenzo Ave. and "secured the situation within minutes," Denham said.
The initial dispatch indicated there was an active shooter situation. The mall's security issued an automated audio alert with a siren advising "emergency, evacuate or seek shelter."
During the mall's warning, the relaxing outdoor dining areas turned into people scrambling to get on the ground. Some hid under tables before running inside to the restaurants' kitchens.
Coral Gables paramedics pronounced Wilson dead at the gym. A Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter landed at the nearby Coral Gables Senior High School's sports field and took the other shooting victims to Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center.
Ackerman's friends mourned her on social media.
"A very sweet soul who deserved a better closing chapter than this," Mykel Tulloch wrote on Facebook.
Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg released a statement Sunday about Ackerman.
"Our deepest condolences to family and friends touched by the violence at a Coral Gables fitness center on Saturday. We are especially sad that an FIU alumna, Janine Ackerman, was among the fatalities.
"Janine earned her masters from the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management in 2008. She stayed in touch with classmates and Vice Provost and Professor Steve Moll, who followed her career and spoke with her regularly. She was the general manager at the Equinox.
"Senseless violence has claimed yet another life full of promise. Please keep Janine and her family in your prayers," he wrote.
Ackerman was born in Monroeville, New Jersey. She graduated from Florida International University and worked at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. According to her LinkedIn account, she was promoted from assistant general manager to general manager in August. A former Equinox employee said Ackerman was the manager who fired Wilson.
Hortis, a fitness manager at Equinox, was a former instructor at Crunch in Miami Beach and Chicago, according to a Fitness Magazine profile. Zabaleta said he was listed in critical condition as of Saturday night.
An Equinox representative released a statement: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by this terrible tragedy."