TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- A gunman stood outside of a crowded downtown bar and opened fire from two different positions early Tuesday, sending patrons running or crawling for cover in a chaotic and bloody scene. At least 17 people were hurt as bullets ricocheted and debris, glass and brick fell in and around the nightclub.
The gunman turned himself in to police several hours after the 12:30 a.m. shooting near the University of Alabama. Police believed the rampage was connected to a shooting at a home about 45 minutes earlier, and they were investigating whether both evolved from a dispute between rival motorcycle gangs.
"There were sparks coming off the ground and then I felt a sting and I knew I’d been hit," said Rachel Studdard, who was sitting on the bar’s patio with a group of friends, enjoying 50-cent draft beer when the shooting started.
A bullet hit Studdard’s toe, and debris hit her in the side and in the leg. She was using crutches to walk Tuesday and still had dried blood on her leg.
The shots fired so quickly it sounded like automatic gunfire, said Studdard, who recently graduated a two-year college and plans to attend the university in the fall.
Chief Steve Anderson wouldn’t identify the man until charges were filed, and he cautioned they still were not certain what the motive was.
Outside the bar, pools of blood were visible and a trail of bloody footprints could be seen on the sidewalk for about two blocks leading away from the nightclub before crews cleaned the sidewalk.
Elizabeth Walters was inside the Copper Top when the shooting began. She described a ghastly scene of people clutching wounds as blood splattered and pooled underneath them on the floor.
"It sounded like it would never end," Walters said. "There was a lull and then it started up again."
After the shooting ended, the music in the bar continued to play for several minutes until someone turned it off.
The gunman walked away, down the same street he hiked up to get to the bar, Anderson said.
It appeared he shot through the glass of the front double French doors and a side door. The front doors were covered by a black material and two windows were missing from wooden doors on the side door, where a bullet left a hole in the frame.
Police also said they thought the rampage was connected to an earlier shooting at a home in Northport, where yellow police tape surrounded the single-level, brown ranch-style house. The front window was broken out and three police cars were parked outside. A motorcycle was parked in the garage.
One person was injured in that shooting.
"We feel certain that we will be able to connect the dots with this individual," Anderson said.
The gunman turned himself in at a business about 45 miles north of the shooting in Tuscaloosa. He walked into the store and told an employee he was the suspect, Anderson said. The workers called police and he was taken into custody.
Most of the injured were hit by bullet fragments or debris, said Brad Fisher, a spokesman at DCH Regional Medical Center.
Two people were in intensive care, one in critical condition and the other in serious condition, Fisher said. Three people were in fair condition and the others were treated and released.
At least three of the injured were university students.