Tributes poured in on Monday from friends and colleagues of a longtime Toronto bouncer who died in a shooting attack at a music festival in Mexico.
Kirk Wilson was identified in several Mexican reports as among five people killed when gunfire broke out at the crowded beachfront Blue Parrot nightclub as it throbbed with electronic music.
The shooting set off a bloody stampede by screaming concertgoers at the international festival in the resort of Playa del Carmen.
Longtime friend Neil Forester said Wilson was working security at the annual BPM Festival and was one of several people from the Toronto area lending a hand to the festival’s Canadian organizers.
“He was just a genuine, one-of-a-kind guy,” said Forester, who described Wilson as having no ego and no attitude. “He was the first guy you called whenever you needed something.”
While Mexican authorities said two Canadians were among the five dead, Global Affairs Canada confirmed one Canadian death and was working to verify whether there was a second.
Federal officials say at least two other Canadians were wounded.
Forester, a corporate event promoter in Toronto, described Wilson as a fixture on the Toronto club scene — a stocky 6-5 man with waist-length dreadlocks who freelanced in security and running the front door of various Toronto clubs.
“He had a nickname — “Kirk with the dreads,” Forester said. “He was just a really amazing guy that treated everyone with respect — whether it was patrons, co-workers or whoever it may be.”
Forester said Wilson, 49, was married with two children and living in the Hamilton, Ont., area.
Wilson’s wife didn’t want to talk to the media and the family is “obviously devastated and shocked,” he said, adding that Wilson’s children were in school when the family learned of his death.
There was plenty of sorrow online, where musicians and clubgoers expressed condolences and thanked Wilson for keeping them safe over the years.
A company that employed him also expressed its condolences.
“We can confirm that Kirk Wilson was a longtime employee and great friend of INK Entertainment,” the firm said in a statement. “Our team is overcome with grief over this terrible tragedy and would like to express our sincerest condolences to his family and friends for their loss.”
Quintana Roo state Attorney General Miguel Angel Pech ruled out any terror attack, but said the shooting erupted when festival security personnel tried to stop a man from entering the club with a gun.
Three of those killed were part of the security detail at the festival, Pech said. State officials said the dead included two Canadians, an Italian and a Colombian. The gunman apparently fled.
“I was thinking it was the same thing that happened in Paris, some guy just walking in and shooting people at a restaurant, bang bang bang, a terrorist attack,” said New Zealand tourist Tyler Klee, who was outside the club when shots rang out.
“Everyone run, everyone was terrified, looking for their friends … We were running away and then you hear more shots fired, like you don’t know if you’re going to shot in the back or not.”
His friend Ben Forbes, from Australia, said “it happened pretty quickly as well … You still didn’t know where they were, how many there were.”
The shots set off a rush for the exits that accounted for at least some of the injuries. The lone female victim was apparently killed during the stampede. Rescue workers tended to bloodied survivors and Pech said 15 people were injured, including one Mexican woman who was seriously injured.
Pech said eight of the injured — including two U.S. citizens — had been treated for less serious injuries at local hospitals and released. Italy’s Foreign Ministry confirmed one its citizens died.
The gunman began to exchange fire with another person inside, Pech said, and festival security personnel who tried to stop the shooting came under fire. He said 20 bullet casings from three different pistols had been found at the scene and that it was unclear if the security detail had been armed or fired any of the weapons.
Pech said the gunman himself apparently escaped, though three people had been detained nearby. It was not known if they had been involved in the shooting.
“We know of another shooting incident that occurred near the nightclub, but we are investigating whether that is related” to the nightclub shootings,” Pech said.
The government of the township that includes Playa de Carmen referred in a statement to “attackers who fired shots,” but did not provide further details.
Rodolfo Del Angel, director of police in Quintana Roo, told the Milenio TV station the shooting was the result of “a disagreement between people inside” the nightclub and said security guards had come under fire when they tried to contain the dispute.
Playa del Carmen has largely been spared the violence that has hit other parts of Mexico.
— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal, with files from Peter Cameron in Toronto and from The Associated Press.