Mystery of why city university graduates were in crime-ridden district
DETECTIVES in Florida are trying to find out what led two Sheffield University graduates to the deprived, crime-ridden district where they were shot dead.
James Cooper, aged 25, and James Kouzaris, 24, were gunned down on a street in Sarasota’s rundown district of Newtown – a neighbourhood detectives where said it was very unusual to find tourists.
Shawn Tyson, aged 16, who lives close to the murder scene, is being held by police on suspicion of murder.
Nine days earlier he had been arrested for aggravated assault with a handgun after allegedly firing into a car.
The murdered graduates, who became friends in Sheffield during their university studies, had been on a night out in the city of Sarasota a few hours before their bodies were found in a narrow one-way street 20 blocks away at about 3am on Saturday.
Mr Kouzaris, from Northampton, was on a three-week holiday in Florida with Mr Cooper and his family who are from Warwick.
Captain Paul Sutton, of Sarasota Police, said detectives were examining all theories and keeping an open mind as to how and why the friends came to be in the ‘no-go’ area.
Early reports that the men had been murdered with a machine gun were quashed by Capt Sutton, but it is believed they were each shot a number of times.
He said the Britons may have befriended someone who gave them a lift, could have got a cab detectives have not yet traced, or may have walked.
“Anything you could imagine is a possibility,” he said. “It is very unusual to find tourists or visitors in this area. It is a residential neighbourhood with no shops and no bars. We do not know what brought them here at 3am.”
Asked whether there could be more arrests in the case, Capt Sutton said: “We’re looking at the possibility. More than one person ran when the shots were fired.
“Are other people involved or is it people who just happened to be there?”
Sarasota Police chief Mikel Hollaway said detectives had suspicions about what the men were doing in the area, adding he believed the victims were there of their own volition.
Mr Cooper had spent Thursday night with American friend Gina Cross, 31, from Sarasota.
She said: “I don’t know how they ended up where they were found. It’s a very bad neighbourhood – somewhere I would not even drive.”
Mr Kouzaris studied for three years in Sheffield for a degree in Urban Studies and Planning, followed by a 12-month masters. A successful amateur rugby player, he had spent several months afterwards travelling in South America, visiting Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Bolivia.
His parents described him as a wonderful son.
They said: “We loved him so much and can’t believe he has gone. We are absolutely devastated and in a state of complete shock.”
Mr Cooper, who completed a management degree, represented Warwickshire at tennis and played Andy Murray in a junior tournament.
He was a full-time tennis coach for a Warwick University-based company and had just been promoted to head coach, which he was due to start after returning from Florida.