Shooting near New College at University and 41
The scene of the shooting. Photo by Alexandra Levy.

Shooting near New College at University and 41

At 7:57 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 26, New College students received the following email from New College Emergency Alert: “Shooting at University and 41. Officers on scene. Stay clear.” An update appeared at 8:05 a.m., when students were provided the same message with the phrase “shooting near campus” added. Then at 8:34 a.m., “Police activity at University and 41. There is no threat to the campus. Avoid the area. Westbound University is closed.” 

At 11:13 a.m. the New College Office of Communications and Marketing stated, “The campus was never in jeopardy and there is no ongoing threat. There is an ongoing investigation and University Parkway continues to be closed westbound between Old Bradenton Road and U.S. 41. Non-affiliated individuals were involved in the incident.”

This incident was especially alarming because the shooting occurred near the Hyatt Hotel, which New College is using to house students. Students living at the Hyatt had to maneuver a route on foot to get to class while police cars, caution tape and representatives from local media crowded the area

First year Milo Ware, who lives at the Hyatt, spoke with the Catalyst about the chaos of that day. 

“I woke up in the morning to my roommate freaking out,” Ware said. “There was an atmosphere of stress hanging around the Hyatt. When I was going from my room to class, there was a lot of obstruction. I couldn’t walk the sidewalk route to campus, so I couldn’t take my normal walk to school.” 

Ware’s bypass behind the airport added 15 minutes to his walk. “I was a little worried because I do have friends on campus and I didn’t know how long the danger lasted for.”

Another Hyatt resident and first year, Jamie Dunne, explained that he found the presence of police cars and the sound of sirens below his room somewhat reassuring. “I wasn’t that nervous because I knew it was being dealt with. However, I did walk downstairs from the second floor because from my room I couldn’t see and I walked by several students who had not been notified by the school or hadn’t seen the report and I asked them if they were going to class. To which they said of course, not realizing what was happening.”

Police Helicopter at the scene. Photo by Lucy Duke

In a press conference later that day, SPD Public Information Officer Cynthia McLaughlin stated that she could not comment on the shooter’s identity or how the car ended up in the pond due to the investigation being active. However, according to the Sarasota Herald Tribune, a Medical Examiner’s Office vehicle was present, and on Feb. 27 McLaughlin confirmed that the subject is deceased. 

In a press statement later that day, the Sarasota Police Department (SPD) stated that at approximately 7:50 on the morning of the shooting, an officer stopped a Cadillac sedan with an outstanding Sarasota County warrant. There was an exchange of gunfire. 

At noon, the vehicle was pulled out from a nearby pond with multiple visible bullet holes. Police assured the public that there was no risk from a shooter. A cat escaped from the partially submerged vehicle and has not been found.

McLaughlin during the press conference. Photo by Gaby Batista.

Due to a major tie up on University Parkway, rush-hour traffic moved to Bay Shore Road, the street that runs across New College’s academic campus and past the Ringling Museum. Long lines of cars backed up the street that students use to access the Caples classrooms.

According to live body camera footage released on Mar 1st by the FDLE, 54-year-old William Pickett  robbed the Fifth Third Bank over the weekend and was wanted for grand theft auto and robbery with a firearm.  Officers can be heard yelling “shots fired” and telling Pickett to surrender once his car was submerged in the water. Shots can be heard coming from Pickett and all five officers respond with multiple rounds of gunfire. The five officers involved were placed on administrative leave and the investigation was assigned to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which is standard in an officer-involved shooting.

Another view of the University and Tamiami Trail intersection on the morning of Feb. 26. Photo by Alexandra Levy

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