Clients loved working out with suspected Merrick Park gunman at Coral Gables gym

The first thing people noticed about Abeku Wilson was his size.

Wilson — a personal trainer who witnesses said shot two people, killing one, at a gym in Coral Gables Saturday afternoon before fatally turning the gun on himself — rippled with meticulously built muscle that he honed as a weight lifter, martial artist, model and competitive bodybuilder.

Those who knew the bulky, 6’2 Wilson described him as a friendly, positive, well-balanced man who often acted more reserved around strangers. But something went horribly wrong Saturday afternoon at the Equinox gym where he worked in luxury Merrick Park shopping center.

Eveliny Bastos-Klein had a training session with Wilson shortly before the shooting took place at 12:55 p.m. The Miami public-relations executive said nothing gave her pause during an hour-long session that ended around noon.

“He did not seem unusual,” she said. “Not distracted. I didn’t notice anything amiss.”

She described Wilson as an impressive trainer and said Saturday was no different.

“As always, he was great,” she said. “Just very professional and polite and calm.”

But Marc Sarnoff, a former Miami city commissioner, said Wilson behaved oddly during a Saturday morning encounter at the gym. Sarnoff, who trained with Wilson for about two years but is no longer a client, said Wilson bumped into him and another trainer while they were working out on a machine. The usually clean-cut Wilson looked off and seemed to slur his words.

“He wasn’t clean-shaven,” Sarnoff said, “which was unusual.”

Sarnoff described Wilson as easily the most popular trainer at the high-end gym, which is frequented by South Florida politicians, executives and lawyers. Sarnoff, an Equinox regular, said there was never a hint of violence from the buff Wilson.

“I used to box with Abeku,” Sarnoff said. “We’ve hit each other pretty hard. And I’ve hit him incorrectly. And he never lost his temper.”

BULKING UP

Marvin Henderson, a Miami-based photographer, said he became close friends with Wilson when they attended the University of Miami 15 years ago. Wilson was a talented basketball player who was popular with women “when he wanted to be,” Henderson said. After graduating in 2003, the pair decided to become personal trainers, driving to Orlando to take their certification test.

“He was always smiling, always laughing,” Henderson said, sounding shocked at his friend’s death. “He was never too serious. He’s not a pressure cooker. He didn’t get stressed out or go nuts when something didn’t go his way.”

Wilson wasn’t always so bulky, Henderson recalled. But after starting to train as a bodybuilder about two years ago, Wilson soon grew massive, he said.

Wilson does not appear to have a criminal history in Florida, according to a search of public records.

An Equinox spokeswoman declined in a statement to comment on Wilson’s employment at the gym.

Witnesses identified Wilson as the shooter. Two employees said he had been fired from the gym shortly before the attack took place. In a news conference, police did not name the shooter or the wounded nor did they confirm Wilson’s suicide.

He is said to have shot two people: the gym’s general manager, Janine Ackerman, 35, and fitness manager Marios Hortis, 42. Both victims were hospitalized. Ackerman later died, according to a law-enforcement source.

INTERNET LIFE

Wilson seemed highly conscious about his image and maintained an active account on Instagram. He posted photos of himself lifting weights, practicing martial arts and holding trophies from bodybuilding competitions. In other photos he is pictured smiling with family members and his dog, Zeus.

The dog could be heard barking inside Wilson’s apartment near Dadeland Mall on Saturday afternoon after the shooting took place. Neighbors interviewed by the Miami Herald described Wilson as a quiet, nice man. But none knew him well.

Much of the information available about Wilson as of Saturday evening comes from social media. A profile on a modeling website from 2014 lists his height as 6’2 and his weight as 175 pounds. He appears much bigger in recent photographs.

In a biography posted on the site, Wilson said he was born in Boston and later lived in New York City and Atlanta. He said his father was from the African nation of Ghana and his mother was American. He graduated from UM with a degree in business administration, according to the site.

A UM spokeswoman did not respond when asked to confirm his attendance. Wilson’s parents could not be located. His mother is said to live in New York.

Facebook lit up with Wilson’s friends expressing grief at the spree of violence.

“You were always a stand up humble, hardworking guy focused in helping others,” one friend wrote. “We all have our dark days and internal demons and somehow, someway they overcame you. [M]y prayers to the families of all.”

Miami Herald staff writers Alex Harris, Patricia Mazzei, David J. Neal and Charles Rabin contributed to this report.