In the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, estimated to be one of the most destructive and deadly hurricanes to hit the United States in decades, 31- individuals have been confirmed dead after a group of store owners within a Florida strip mall engaged in a deadly shootout with looters.
The incident occurred this morning at approximately 10:00 AM when a large group of 42-looters attempted to forcefully steal from businesses at the Willow Brook shopping center located just outside of Daytona Beach, Florida.
The Willow Brook shopping center is comprised of 9 primarily small independently owned local businesses including a discount clothing store, tanning salon, karate studio, smoke shop, and Mexican restaurant. According to Conner Olsen, the co-owner of ‘Gadgets’ a small electronics store located in the strip mall, the owners of all 9-businesses located at Willow Brook briefly met Wednesday night and unanimously decided to forego evacuation and defend their businesses against looters.
Olsen told reporters, “As a small business owner who (has) lived in Florida his entire, I’m no stranger to natural disasters and the tragedy they bring. I’ve gone through this before and have been looted – completely cleaned out. In our current economy my business just couldn’t survive large scale theft and vandalism. My options were to fight for my business or go bankrupt – I can’t feed my wife and 3 children with thoughts and prayers”.
As Florida residents grew increasingly concerned about the damages Hurricane Matthew promised to deliver, small business owners became even more concerned when several members of the Black Lives Matter movement took to social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter to announce their intentions to loot businesses once the hurricane hit.
According to police and witness reports, the large group of would-be-looters arrived at the Willow Brook shopping center by foot around 10:00 AM and were instantly greeted in the strip mall’s parking-lot by approximately 27-individuals who owned or were employed at the nearby businesses. The two-groups engaged in verbal confrontation that quickly turned violent when 3 of the looters picked up a concrete trash can and attempted to throw it through the window of Golden Breeze Tanning Salon.
Violence erupted further when a store owner who has since been identified as Bryan Wilkins retrieved a .45 caliber handgun from a concealed holster and began firing rounds into the crowd of looters. According to witnesses, multiple individuals within the group of looters began returning fire. Several of the store-owners were armed and started shooting the looters while taking cover behind nearby vehicles and buildings.
According to police reports, the shootout lasted approximately 4-minutes and resulted in the deaths of 31-individuals; 12 store owners and or store employees and 19 would be looters. Chief of Police Daniel Griffin made the following statement during an afternoon press-conference, “What occurred at the Willow Brook shopping center today was unnecessary and nothing short of a tragedy. During these difficult and trying times we plead with you to help your neighbors and community members. We urge you to look out for and take care of each other not rob, steal, and shoot at each other. While the effects of Hurricane Matthew are undoubtedly devastating – we are a strong community and we will get through this by working together”.
At the time of this article, no arrests have been made in connection with the Willow Brook shopping center shooting, however, according to reports, the remaining 38-individuals involved in the shooting are being held pending further investigation.