Former mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli wins Coral Gables mayoral seat

After more than a decade away from politics, Raul Valdes-Fauli took the mayoral seat again in Tuesday’s election.

The former mayor beat out political rival Commissioner Jeanett Slesnick.

With all 23 precincts reporting, Valdes-Fauli received more than 51percent of the vote, while Slesnick received nearly 49 percent.

Valdes-Fauli was mayor from 1993 to 2001. 

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Second Equinox Fitness Club shooting victim dies, police say

A second victim in a shooting at a Coral Gables fitness center has died.

Equinox Fitness Club issued a statement Sunday on its Facebook page that gym manager Marios Hortis died after being shot multiple times Saturday at the Shops at Merrick Park.

Miami-Dade police later confirmed the gym’s statement. 

The shooter, identified as former Equinox Fitness Club employee Abeku Wilson, 33, was fired from the gym Saturday because of workplace violence and was escorted off the premises, Miami-Dade police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta said. He then returned to the fitness center and fatally shot Janine Ackerman, 35.

Hortis, 42, was also injured in the shooting and later died at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center, Zabaleta said. 

After shooting the two victims, Wilson fatally shot himself, Zabaleta said. 

“There is nothing I can say to lessen the searing pain we all feel at this terrible moment,” Equinox Fitness Club executive chairman Harvey Spevak wrote on its official Facebook page. “Yesterday’s tragedy at our Coral Gables location has impacted everyone in the Equinox family. Our team members, Janine Ackerman, Coral Gables general manager, and Marios Hortis, our Coral Gables tier X manager, were beautiful souls lost way too soon. We send our love and condolences to their families and friends. We also wish to thank the entire Equinox community for its outpouring of support and kindness in the wake of this senseless tragedy.”

In a separate statement, signed by Spevak and the gym’s chief executive officer, Niki Leondakis, and chief operating officer, Scott Rosen, the loss of the two gym employees is described as “too profound for words.”

The statement said that Ackerman had been working for Equinox for nearly two years. 

“She was a kind and caring soul, a person we all loved and will deeply miss,” the statement said. “Her memory will never be forgotten.” 

Hortis worked at Equinox for six years. 

“His generous spirit and warm demeanor made him an always welcome presence in our world, and that will sorely be missed,” the statement said. 

Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg released a statement Sunday about Ackerman. 

“Our deepest condolences to family and friends touched by the violence at a Coral Gables fitness center on Saturday,” Rosenberg said. “We are especially sad that an FIU alumna, Janine Ackerman, was among the fatalities. Janine earned her master’s (degree) from the Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism Management in 2008. She stayed in touch with classmates and vice provost and professor Steve Moll, who followed her career and spoke with her regularly. She was the general manager at the Equinox. Senseless violence has claimed yet another life full of promise. Please keep Janine and her family in your prayers.” 

Ackerman attended FIU after graduating from Michigan State University, where the New Jersey native received an athletic scholarship to play field hockey.

Moll was her academic adviser at FIU and said Ackerman was a “rare” student.

“There are one or two dozen people in your career who become your friend,” he said. “She was one of those rare, special people.”

Moll said Ackerman maintained a 3.9 GPA in school, and helped coordinate student volunteers at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, a job that she “nailed.” 

The pair kept in touch over the years, and when Moll learned of Ackerman’s death, his world stopped. 

“I went to the bathroom and cried,” he said. “She is two years older than my daughter. It was like losing a daughter. You never want to go through that. When she became your friend she was the best person ever.”

Moll said it’s hard for him to talk about Ackerman in the past tense. 

For now, he’s holding onto memories they shared together, like the time she gave him a ride in her BMW. 

“She said, ‘Let me drive,’ and she fancies herself a qualifying race car driver,” Moll said with a laugh. “Which caused this old guy to hold onto everything in the car. She said, ‘I brake quickly, so you have to get used to it.’ She was the best.” 

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2 dead, 1 wounded after managerial dispute at Equinox Fitness Club in Merrick Park

Police officers closed the Shops at Merrick Park after a former Equinox Fitness Club employee shot and killed a gym manager, wounded a fitness manager and killed himself Saturday in Coral Gables.

Coral Gables Police Chief Edward Hudak said the former employee targeted the two victims after a managerial dispute at the luxury gym.

Former Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, a member of the gym, identified the gunman as Abeku Wilson, whom he described as having “great manners” and being “a very nice man.” Actor Christian de la Fuente referred to Wilson as “my brother and trainer” on Instagram and was at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

“When I heard about the shooting, I really thought he was the victim,” said Marvin Henderson, who went to the University of Miami with him. “I am really having trouble accepting that he did this. He was just not that guy.”

Wilson, 33, was a former employee of the Biltmore Hotel’s fitness center in Coral Gables. His posts on Instagram show he was a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blue belt and practiced Muay Thai. He was also a regular RX Muscle contestant.

“He was a good man, a loyal friend,” Michael De La Pava, one of Abeku’s best friends, wrote on Facebook.

Witnesses at Soul Cycle, the Villagio Restaurant and the Yard House reported hearing the gun shots Wilson fired at the second-floor gym about 1 p.m. Former University of Miami baseball standout Javy Rodriguez said he was inside the gym, ran to safety and helped others get out of the building.

“Equinox workers did an amazing job of calmly … getting the rest out of there,” Rodriguez said.

A Coral Gables police officer was on the property and ran to the fitness center, Miami-Dade Detective Alvaro Zabaleta said.

The officer saw “people running and subsequently was advised by mall security personnel that a shooting was in progress,” Coral Gables Police Officer Kelly Denham said in a statement.

Coral Gables and Miami police officers quickly surrounded the mall at 358 San Lorenzo Ave. and “secured the situation within minutes,” Denham said.

The initial dispatch indicated there was an active shooter situation. The mall’s security issued an automated audio alert with a siren advising “emergency, evacuate or seek shelter.”

During the mall’s warning, the relaxing outdoor dining areas turned into people scrambling to get on the ground. Some hid under tables before running inside to the restaurants’ kitchens.

Coral Gables paramedics pronounced Wilson dead at the gym. A Miami-Dade Fire Rescue helicopter landed at the nearby Coral Gables Senior High School’s sports field and took the other shooting victims to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center.

Equinox Fitness Club employees identified the victims as Janine Ackerman, 35, and Mario Hortis, 42. Ackerman’s friends mourned her on social media.

“A very sweet soul who deserved a better closing chapter than this,” Mykel Tulloch wrote on Facebook.

Ackerman was born in Monroeville, New Jersey. She graduated from Florida International University and worked at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. According to her LinkedIn account, she was promoted from assistant general manager to general manager in August. A former Equinox employee said Ackerman was the manager who fired Wilson.

Hortis, a fitness manager at Equinox, was a former instructor at Crunch in Miami Beach and Chicago, according to a Fitness Magazine profile. Zabaleta said he was listed in critical condition as of Saturday night.

An Equinox representative released a statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by this terrible tragedy.”

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New local outdoor market features creative women

Local musicians, comedians and poets will perform. There will be a few fitness classes. And some two dozen crafty women will be at the vendor pavilion.

These are some of the promises that the three organizers of the Hatch Miami outdoor market plan to keep when they launch their first event on Saturday. 

Their list of local women-owned businesses includes Porn Nails nail tech service, Kumo FriendsIndigo Instinct  and Love UR Mama.

The Miss Cheezious food truck also plans to make a stop.The outdoor event will be held from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday at the Coral Gables Museum, 285 Aragon Ave.  

Performance schedule:

  •  11 a.m.: Frost School of Music
  •  Noon: Zumba w/ Maria Fleitas of the City of Coral Gables Adult Activity Center
  •  1 p.m. The Bows and Ties (folk duo)
  •  2 p.m. Family Yoga w/ Luisa Buitrago (in the museum’s Community Room)
  •  3 p.m. Artistic Vibes (family & kid-friendly comedy Improv)
  •  4 p.m. Q Rodriguez (spoken-word artist)
  •  5 p.m. Long Shore Drift (indie rock band)
  •  6 p.m. O, Miami Poetry Hour’s Poetry Bus Captained by Afrobeta’s Cucy Amador with Ana Maria Caballero.

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UM, FIU students arrested in prostitution sting

Students from the University of Miami and Florida International University were arrested during a prostitution sting in Coral Gables.

Two UM students, Acacia Friedman, 23, and Maury Noun, 21, along with FIU student Samara Charlotin, 19, were charged with prostitution after an undercover police operation Wednesday night.

Friedman and Charlotin reportedly met with an undercover detective at the Colonnade Hotel after agreeing to have sex for $5,000.

While inside the hotel, the detective handed Friedman the money and asked to verify “what he was getting” for the money.

Friedman first replied that it was a “hang out,” but later confirmed that sex with a condom would be involved.

Both Friedman and Charlotin were charged with engaging in prostitution, while Charlotin faces additional charges of possession of 1 gram of cannabis and one Oxycodone pill.

Noun was charged with aiding or abetting prostitution and directing others to prostitution.

In bond court on Thursday, Judge Mindy Glazer ordered Charlotin to stay away from the other two students.

“You’re a smart girl. If you want to see age 20, you need to find a new line of employment,” Glazer said. “A very risky thing you’re doing, alright? With someone with a lot of potential such as yourself, you need to stay away from them.”

The University of Miami declined to provide information or comment on the ongoing investigation. 

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University of Miami student, 21, found dead in apartment, police say

Miami-Dade police are investigating the death of a 21-year-old University of Miami student found dead in his apartment Wednesday night.

Nicolas De Lavalette’s body was discovered in a bathroom at about 3:30 p.m. in the 6600 block of Southwest 57th Avenue.

He was pronounced dead in the apartment.

De Lavalette’s body is being examined by the Miami-Dade County medical examiner’s office.

An initial investigation revealed that were was no trauma involved in the student’s death and no foul play was suspected.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. 

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