Merrick Park gym shooting victims mourned amid investigation

CORAL GABLES, FLA. (WSVN) - The gym at the Shops at Merrick Park where a weekend shooting claimed three lives, including the gunman, reopened on Monday, as a shaken community continues to grapple with the lives lost due to gun violence.

7News cameras captured security personnel guarding the entrance of Equinox Gym, located at the corner of Laguna Street and San Lorenzo Avenue, Monday afternoon.

Gym members said their hearts are heavy in the wake of the tragedy. “People are dead, three,” she said. “Two were very young and very beautiful, and one was clearly troubled, and this is just so sad, so, so sad.”

Sunday night, mourners embraced one another and held up candles in front of the gym, as they remembered Janine Ackerman and Marios Hortis.

Speaking to 7News during the memorial, gym member Julie Neitzel said this should have never happened. “It’s just such a tragic, horrible, unnecessary situation that affected some really nice people,” she said.

Janine Ackerman, Marios Hortis

Neitzel joined at least 100 other gym members as they reflected on their relationships with Ackerman, a manager at the luxury gym, and fellow employee Hortis.

Mourners are also coming to terms with the actions of Abeku Wilson, the fitness trainer who, police said, shot and killed his former coworkers before turning the gun on himself, just before 1 p.m., Saturday.

Rosen said she was at the mall when the gunshots rang out. “I was at Neiman Marcus, sitting on the patio with my daughter enjoying lunch – having a wonderful time – when you hear shots,” she said. “Who expects to hear shots on a Saturday afternoon sitting on a patio at a luxury store?”

According to Miami-Dade Police, Wilson had been fired from the luxury gym earlier on Saturday for workplace violence. He came back shortly after, taking aim and firing at Ackerman, 35, and Hortis, 42.

“I didn’t know what it was, but I heard a series of, ‘pah, pah, pah, pah, pah, pah,’ and people all of a sudden around me started reacting and screaming,” said Vicki Diez, who was on her way into work when the shots rang out.

Abeku Wilson

The gunfire sent the upscale mall into lockdown. Employees and shoppers were sent running for cover into stores.

“All I told my whole staff was, ‘Everybody, close up the doors. Something’s going on,'” said nearby worker Nicole Guzman. “I see babies running. I see everybody running from that direction.”

Paramedics airlifted Ackerman and Hortis to Ryder Trauma Center, where they both died.

Rosen remembered Ackerman fondly. “She was a tender, sweet, kind, caring person, who, at 35 years old, should not be dead,” Rosen said. “This is just so sad, so, so sad.”

Ackerman had earned her master’s degree from Florida International University. The school’s vice provost, Dr. Steve Moll, said he was shocked and saddened by news of her death.

“When I heard about it, it was, ‘No, this really isn’t happening,'” said Moll, who was the victim’s advisor and professor during her time at FIU. “Here’s this vibrant, vital, happy, wonderful person, and now she’s gone.”

Wilson’s neighbor, who identified herself as Eve, said she was shocked when she heard about the shooting. “He was very quiet, very quiet man. That’s what’s so shocking. I mean, something must have triggered that,” she said.

Gym members like former City of Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff knew all three people involved in the shooting, and he described the gym as a family.

Sarnoff said he is still trying to come to terms with what sparked the shooting. “You can’t condone what [Abeku] did, and you shouldn’t, but he was a good person,” he said, “and Janine was a great person, and Marios was a great person.”

“I think it’s going to be very uncomfortable,” said Neitzel. “I think there will be really difficult memories, and I think we’re just going to have to work to get it behind us.”

“I didn’t lose just a random student to violence. I lost my friend,” said Moll.

Moll said Ackerman was a determined leader, and his bright future has now been stolen. “She was absolutely brilliant, and she was charming,” he said. “It’s really tragic. This senseless murder was just horrific.”

A spokesperson for FIU released a statement that read in part, “Senseless violence has claimed yet another life full of promise. Please keep Janine and her family in your prayers.”

The Shops at Merrick Park reopened for business on Sunday.

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