Laughter provoked shooter, partygoer says
By MICHAEL LaFORGIA Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Thursday, May 01, 2008
BOCA RATON — Rhyan Walcott watched his friend's antics until it became too much for him.
Seated on a stool in the ground-floor kitchen of his friend's two-story apartment in University Village, a student complex on campus at Florida Atlantic University, Walcott, 21, laughed and laughed.
The grounds around him were alive with the sounds of coed revelers marking the end of exams, the laughter and shouting punctuated by the crackling of fireworks from the second-story walkway. An abundance of alcohol and the upcoming release of summer vacation added a dash of volatility to the evening.
Walcott, a student at Broward Community College, had made the trip to FAU on Tuesday night to visit a close friend in apartment 233. And although he couldn't cut loose too completely - he had finals in macroeconomics and biology the next day - he was having a good time.
His smile faded, though, with the approach of a tall, scowling stranger in braids and a long red shirt, standing behind the friend at whom Walcott was laughing.
What are you laughing at? the man wanted to know.
Not at you, Walcott said.
"I was thinking in my head: 'You think we would waste time laughing at you?'" Walcott recalled in an interview Thursday. He would need some time to comprehend what happened next.
"He just immediately pulls out the gun and hits me on the head a few times," Walcott said. "I try to get him and he just steps back and fires. I see the flash."
The sight of the pistol and the sharp crack of a gunshot sent partygoers scrambling into the bathroom, up the stairs or out the door. There were screams and sobs and the frantic sound of trampling feet.
"He hit me again and then I fell back on my back because I was just dazed," Walcott said. "And then he fired another one."
After the stranger had fled, Walcott picked himself up. His temple was sore and swelling, blood trickled from his lip and from the corner of one ear, but otherwise he was all right. He realized the gunman had missed.
An eerie warning siren sounded. The rest of the night was a whirl of police and ambulance lights. Gruff officers and paramedics bustled about the apartments. The campus was locked down as officials triggered FAU's alert system, revised after last April's mass shooting at Virginia Tech.
Walcott sat with investigators for hours, giving his statements.
By Wednesday afternoon, police had arrested Omar Graham Jr., 23, a management student at Johnson & Wales University in North Miami, in the shooting.
Graham admitted to the shooting, according to his arrest affidavit. Investigators found his gun, wrapped in a red T-shirt, in a friend's house in North Miami, the report stated.
Graham, who lives in Royal Palm Beach, was being held at the Palm Beach County Jail on charges of attempted murder, aggravated battery and firing a gun.
At a court hearing Thursday morning, Graham's lawyer suggested he had pulled the gun to defend himself. A judge, who called the attempted murder charge "sketchy," set Graham's bond at $35,000.
Walcott got back to Miramar about 2 p.m. Wednesday. He had missed his exams, and would have to reschedule. But first he took awhile to collect his impressions.
"I thought about it afterwards," he said. "That was really close to death. How are you going to die over something so simple, and so stupid?"