Shay “Kiv” Kivlen was lying on his hotel-room bed, watching his best friend compete in the Madden 19 video-game tournament that drew them both to Jacksonville, Fla., this weekend. He was watching on Twitch, the video-game live-streaming platform.
Fresh off a loss, Kivlen had left the game room at the Landing in downtown Jacksonville just 15 minutes before to decompress for a couple of hours before heading back. Then, through the Twitch stream, he heard gunshots. He thought it must be from the bar near the competition. He was wrong.
Inlaid into the live stream of the game was a smaller screen, showing two players in the tournament. One, in a red sweatshirt and white headphones, was Kivlen’s friend TrueBoy, whose real name was Eli Clayton. Clayton looked to his left and smiled as, unnoticed to him or anyone else in that room, the red dot of what appeared to be a laser sight flicked across his chest. He returned his eyes to the game, and the video of the players faded out. At that moment, the gunshots came. A narrator on the live stream spoke another half-sentence. More gunshots. The screen went gray, and a message appeared: “Controller disconnected.” The audio feed was still live as players screamed. One yelled, “What did he shoot me with?!”
Back in his hotel room, Kivlen was calling everyone he knew. One friend answered: He was holed up in the bathroom of the tournament with a couple dozen other people. The friend was crying.
The whole time, Kivlen was thinking of the images he had seen on the screen, live.
“I was praying, any hope, that he was still alive,” Kivlen said of Clayton in a phone interview Monday morning.
But the news trickling his way, through friends and through Twitter, was not hopeful. Friends had seen the game player’s body. “They saw he had no life,” Kivlen said.
There is a horrifying routine to experiencing a mass shooting online. The reports emerge. Twitter sleuths sort through a wave of information and misinformation. There are death tolls, shooter names and official statements. But increasingly, that routine has been interrupted by video and audio of the shooting itself — revealing the names of the injured and dead, even before they’re officially announced.
In Parkland, Fla., students circulated a Snapchat video of a gunman firing 18 shots into their classroom, a video that was copied, tweeted and broadcast on the news before the number of the dead was known. In the Las Vegas massacre, social media was peppered with videos from the concert floor.
The tournament live stream went similarly, instantly, viral. Embedded videos, tweeted from horrified fans and bystanders, was the first exposure many had to the shooting in Jacksonville. And in those videos were not only the sounds of gunshots but also the names of the two players believed to be dead. Clayton, who was on screen in the video, and another well-known player in the competitive Madden world: Taylor “SpotMe” Robertson.
Robertson and Clayton died and 11 others were injured in the mass shooting during the tournament. The gunman, whom authorities identified as David Katz, fatally shot himself. Police on Monday had not released a motive for the shooting or clarified whether Katz, who was attending the tournament, knew any of the victims personally.
One of the injured, 26-year-old Timothy Anselimo, was struck three times. His mother, Sujeil Lopez, held a news conference at the hospital Monday and said that her family first learned of the shooting through the live stream, which Anselimo’s half brother was watching.
The brother called Anselimo, who said there was a shooting taking place and to tell his mother he loved her. With only that information and the little available on the news, Lopez hopped in the car to drive from Tampa to Jacksonville, about three hours away. She told reporters that throughout the entire drive, she didn’t know whether her son was alive or dead.
On Monday afternoon, police officially identified the two people who died in the shooting.
Clayton, 22, was a rising star in competitive Madden. His agent, Clay Taylor, told The Washington Post on Sunday night that Clayton “wasn’t even close to his prime.”
Kivlen, who had spoken with Clayton nearly every day for five years, said Clayton had a “crazy bright future ahead of him.”
Robertson, 28, was from West Virginia. He played for the Dot City Gaming team. On a Twitter account believed to be his, Robertson posted pictures of his wife and son. “He had a family,” Kivlen said. “He was one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.”
Many players and fans changed their Twitter avatars to an image of the two players, with the words “champions forever,” within hours of the shooting.
As the video of the shooting spread, a question chased right behind it: Is it acceptable to watch or listen to a recording of a graphic shooting? For those immersed in this particular subculture, the video was almost unavoidable. The video was inseparable from the news of the shooting itself.
A viral video has a tendency to spread faster than consequences. And one thing seems certain: The questions this new, gruesome part of mass shootings in the United States raises are ones we will be asking again.
Amy Wang in Jacksonville contributed to this report.