Torontonians recount terror and tragedy of seeing friend killed in Mexico club shooting
'Once I started seeing people falling on the floor and running, I was like, "Oh, this is real"'
The first gunshot cut through the pulse of the Playa del Carmen, Mexico, nightclub less than a minute after Charles Lewis last spoke to Kirk Wilson, a Canadian killed in a shooting that left four others dead in the early hours of Monday morning.
At first, Lewis and DJ Alan Aguero thought it might be fireworks.
Part of a soundshow to mark the end of the 10-day BPM electronic music festival that had packed the Blue Parrot nightclub to capacity, according to what Wilson, a veteran bouncer in this city's entertainment scene, had just told him.
"But once I started seeing people falling on the floor and running, I was like, 'Oh, this is real,'" Aguero told CBC Toronto.
"One guy he got shot in the back and he fell over [and] then I was just running, and there was just people trampling all over each other."
Global Affairs Canada said in a statement late Monday that Wilson was the only Canadian killed, contradicting early reports from Mexico that two Canadians were dead.
Both Lewis and Aguero reported hearing nearly 20 shots, the first of which triggered a stampede. At least one woman, an American, died in the stampede itself, the Associated Press reported.
Aguero and Lewis got separated, and neither could see Wilson. Aguero said he injured his neck after he was punched and elbowed in the head during the rush to escape.
"I fell to the ground, too," Aguero said. "And I just thought I'm going to possibly die here if I don't run fast enough."
'People screaming, screaming, screaming'
Lewis, meanwhile, stayed close to the club after the shots were fired.
"Everyone just kind of paused," the entertainment promoter said Monday night. "The first shot went off — silence. Then, just shots and people started stampeding."
He was a father, he was a husband, he's just … what you call a real man.- Charles Lewis, friend of Kirk Wilson
Instead of running, Lewis said he grabbed the people standing closest to him and pulled them down behind a wall.
"I continued just hearing rapid shots, rapid shots," he said. "People screaming, screaming, screaming."
The yelling continued, but the shots stopped. Lewis said he went to look for Wilson, who had been "part of this whole entire Toronto entourage" that started the festival a decade ago.
He found Wilson in an alley outside the club and left him to find a paramedic while several other friends tried to revive the 49-year-old from the Hamilton area.
There were 14 other people injured in the shooting and Lewis described a scene of chaos. When he found a paramedic, they were with a woman who had been shot in the hip.
"So they just got to him a little bit late," Lewis said of his friend.
A family man
Tributes from those in the city's entertainment industry poured in for Wilson as news of his death spread.
Lewis choked up after landing in Toronto Monday night as he spoke about his 20-year friendship with the security guard others considered a "gentle giant" and a sentinel on the city's club scene.
- Kirk Wilson, Canadian security worker, among 5 dead
- Hamilton man killed in Mexican nightclub shooting
"The best thing I can say is he was an equalizer – he'll take in a situation and make it right," Lewis said. "He was a father, he was a husband, he's just … what you call a real man."
A GoFundMe campaign set up for Wilson's family, which includes two young children, had earned more than $30,000 in donations by Monday night.
With files from Greg Ross and Adam Carter