An eyewitness has described the moment a gunman fired on a fitness class organised by boxing coach Pete Taylor, telling a trial jury how he believed he would be killed and had thought: “don’t move, don’t breathe, he is coming”.
Eddie McCann, who was taking part in the early morning class, testified that shooting victim Bobby Messett “went up and came down” as he was shot. “I knew right away he was dead and I could see he was sliding down and could see the blood,” he said.
The court also heard how Mr McCann, a fireman, had recalled watching a documentary on the shooting of former US president Ronald Reagan to help him locate the entry wound of a bullet that went into Mr Taylor’s body, before he applied pressure to Mr Taylor’s armpit.
Mr McCann was giving evidence on Thursday in the Central Criminal Court trial of Gerard Cervi (34), who is charged with murdering Mr Messett and the attempted murder of two other men, Mr Taylor and Ian Britton.
Mr Cervi from the East Wall area in Dublin 3 has pleaded not guilty to murdering Mr Messett (50) at Bray Boxing Club, Bray Harbour, Bray, Co Wicklow on June 5th, 2018. He also denies the attempted murder of Mr Taylor and Mr Britton on the same occasion.
Giving evidence today, Mr McCann told prosecuting counsel Paul Murray SC that he left his home in Bray at 6.40am on the morning of June 5 and drove his van to Bray boxing club for a strength and conditioning class, something he said he did five mornings a week.
The witness explained that the class, which was run by Mr Taylor, started each morning at 6.45am and he had begun attending it two years prior to the incident. “I knew everyone that was there,” he added.
The witness said he parked his Mercedes-Benz Sprinter on the left-hand side of the road outside the gym, near Mr Taylor’s white Mustang at 6.47am that morning.
When asked by counsel how he remembered the exact time, he replied: “I remember precisely because Pete was a stickler for time and the class started at 6.45am. I looked at my watch and I was conscious that I was running late and I said if I’m too late I’m not going in, as he [Pete] would say ‘you are late’, so you didn’t go in late”.
The witness said another participant from the class was standing at the passenger side of his van. “I said I’d go in if he was also late,” he remarked.
Mr McCann said he followed the man into the gym and they walked upstairs, where everybody was gathered. He said that he sat down at the leg press machine “as if he wasn’t late” and Mr Taylor was standing with his back to him.
The witness testified that Mr Taylor was “pairing” people off to work out together and he [Mr McCann] was paired with Craig Britton. “We were going to use the cable crossover machine and do some dumbbell shoulder presses,” he indicated.
At this stage, Mr McCann said he was facing the front door into the gym and standing in the middle of the cable crossover machine as Craig went to get some dumbbells. “I said get the 20s, so he walked back to the left-hand side of the gym,” he added.
As he was warming up on the cable machine, Mr McCann said that Mr Taylor was at the stereo “trying to get the music going”. The witness said he remembered Mr Taylor saying that the subs [subscription fees] were due and he did not want to be “chasing people” so to make sure that they had their subs in. “I was conscious of that and I had my subs with me that day,” he noted.
He said that Matt Britton was behind him on the squat rack at the time and Ian Britton was also behind him.
Man in hard hat
At this point, Mr McCann said he raised his head and looked at the entrance into the gym, where he noticed a person standing in the hallway dressed as a builder, wearing a yellow hard hat and a high vis jacket.
Mr McCann said he had turned to his left and the first person he saw was Mr Messett. The witness said he had a smile on his face as he said to Mr Messett “look at this cunt” as he thought it was his [Mr McCann’s] friend “messing”.
“I thought it was very odd that there was someone at 7am in the morning in builders’ [clothing]. Initially I thought it was my friend messing, having a joke, then I said no something’s not quite right. It seemed to me he was facing back towards the steps, looking down the steps,” he said.
Mr McCann said he kept staring at the man and was “fixed” on him. “I kept thinking what was going on, his hands were clasped and he had a black thing sticking out between his hands and I said this is not what I think it is, it couldn’t be,” he remarked.
The man turned around, Mr McCann said, and he noticed he was wearing a black balaclava and black sunglasses. “I was fixed on the sunglasses. I knew they were the Wayfarer design of sunglasses with little gold hinges. The black balaclava was ribbed, it looked like what you see on tv, like a terrorist, with ribs coming down,” described the witness.
Mr McCann said he kept looking at the gunman and said it was like he was “staring” back at him. He then realised that the man had a gun in his hand.
“He raised his hands and was half in the door and half out the door. He was kind of scanning the room. I was like Jesus, it didn’t register with me. I couldn’t comprehend,” he continued.
“Bobby looked at me and he had a smile on his face and stood up and when I said Bobby, he [the gunman] leant in and kept doing this [witness makes gun gesture with his hands] and the next thing was bang,” he said.
The witness said he saw the colour red and Mr Messett “went up and came down”. “I knew right away he was dead and I could see he was sliding down and could see the blood,” he remarked.
Mr McCann said the gunman kept shooting and everyone stopped what they were doing. The witness said he thought the gunman had shot everyone as the noise was deafening and then it was just silent. He said he thought he heard a named woman from the class screaming before he opened his eyes.
“I was lying on the ground and said [to myself] don’t move, don’t breathe, he is coming. I heard screams and I got up and everyone was out the door, like a hoover, gone,” he continued.
Mr McCann said he stood up, looked to his left and went over to Mr Messett. “I knew he was dead,” he said.
Blood on shirt
He then looked to his right side, saw Mr Taylor lying on the ground and asked him where he was hit. The witness said he was trying to figure out where Mr Taylor had been shot and could see a small bit of blood on his t-shirt so he pulled it up. “I put my hand around his back and was looking for the entry or exit wound to put direct pressure on it,” he said.
The first thing that came into his head, Mr McCann said, was where the entry wound was on Mr Taylor. “I’ve been in the fire brigade for 20 years and I couldn’t figure this out,” he told the jury.
“I’d watched a documentary on Ronnie [Ronald] Reagan when he got shot; the secret service got him into the car and couldn’t find the entry wound and he was trying to breathe and Pete was doing the same. They lifted up his arm and there was a tiny hole under his armpit, that was in my head,” explained the witness.
Mr McCann said he lifted Mr Taylor’s arm up and could see the entry wound so he kept pressure on it. “He was in a lot of pain and I said ‘are you ok’,” he continued.
The witness said that Mr Taylor asked him how Mr Messett was. “I said he was gone or something like that,” he recalled.
Phone and pager
Mr McCann said he looked up and noticed a young girl that he knew in the corner of the gym. He asked her to get him a phone but said she couldn’t move. The witness said he told the young girl to “get out” of the gym and not to look at Mr Messett and “just go”.
He then realised that his phone and fire brigade pager were at the door of the gym. When he got his phone, Mr McCann said he rang the emergency services and gardai. There was some confusion with the address at first so he didn’t end the call, he said.
As he was putting pressure on Mr Taylor’s gunshot wound, Mr McCann said that the boxing trainer’s partner, Karen Brown, arrived at the gym. He said Ms Brown “couldn’t believe it” and said to her partner: “Are you ok babe” and asked him if he wanted water.
“I said don’t give him water and told her to turn the music off,” he said.
Mr McCann said that Craig Britton then walked over towards Mr Messett. “He said Bobby has a pulse, I said he doesn’t, leave him, he is gone,” said the witness.
A garda then arrived at the gym and went over to Mr Messett. “I said he was dead, but he went over anyway and then came over to me. I said are you the first responder and he said he was,” he continued.
Had to get out
Mr McCann said that he and the garda were putting direct pressure on Mr Taylor, when he could feel himself starting to “wean a bit” from the smell in the gym and had to get out of there. “I knew once he was the first responder that I could go. I said I have to get out,” he said.
The witness said he walked out of the gym with Craig Britton and everyone was waiting at the little wall outside the premises. Ian Britton was sitting on the wall, he said, “as white as a ghost” with his leg stretched out. “I could see blood, they said he had been shot as well,” he concluded.
Earlier, the court heard evidence from Detective Garda Laura Bolger who went through drawings and measurements of the ground floor and upstairs of the boxing club with the jury. The detective said there was a bullet hole in the door of the women’s changing room and five bullet holes in one of the walls.
Photographs from the inside of Bray Boxing club were also shown to the jury, where three spent cartridges could be seen on the stairs leading into the gym as well as bullet casings beside some of the gym equipment.
Detective Sergeant Eamonn O’Neill also took the jury through photographs of a Volkswagen Caddy parked on a grassy verge found at Pigeon House Road in Ringsend on June 5th. The court heard that two white spirit plastic bottles were located behind the driver’s seat and another two were found in the overhead area above the driver’s seat.
The trial continues on Friday before Mr Justice Michael White and a jury of three men and nine women.
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In his opening address, Mr Murray said that a “lone gunman” walked into Bray Boxing Club before 7am on June 5 and fired nine shots from a semi-automatic pistol “in quick succession” in “varying directions” in the confined place, leaving one man dead and two other men injured.
Mr Messett was fatally shot in the head during the exercise class and the organiser of the class Mr Taylor and class participant Mr Britton were shot in the bodies and survived.
It is the State’s case that Mr Cervi was the gunman and that he intended to commit murder that day.
My Murray said in his opening that if a person makes a mistake, or kills the wrong person, it is still murder if there was intent to kill a person.