ORLANDO, Florida — Christina Grimmie was a vivacious, outgoing singer whose career was born on social media and propelled toward the big time by television. She didn’t consider herself a famous person, not like the judges on “The Voice,” where she competed, but she had a following that was as enthusiastic about her music as she was.
Kevin Loibl wasn’t like her. While she was a YouTube star, he seemed to be a shadow of Grimmie’s online presence. He left little trace online.
The two apparently had no personal connection to one another until Friday night when police said Loibl traveled 100 miles from his home in St. Petersburg to an Orlando concert venue. There, he shot Grimmie as she was signing autographs for fans after performing. He then fatally shot himself after being tackled by Grimmie’s brother, Marcus.
Grimmie died several hours later early Saturday. Millions of people, far more than those who loved her for her music, were shocked and saddened by her death.
“She was doing a meet-and-greet, just signing autographs and selling merchandise. This white male approached her and opened fire, striking her,” Orlando Police Chief John Mina said Saturday at a news conference. “There is no indication that he knew her. We’re looking into that to try to find a motive for the crime.”
Grimmie, 22, isn’t the only person in the entertainment industry to have been killed by a stranger. Preceding her were John Lennon, designer Gianni Versace and 1980s sitcom star Rebecca Shaeffer.
“Christina was a natural, gifted talent that comes along so rarely,” wrote singer Adam Levine, who was Grimmie’s mentor on “The Voice.” ”She was taken from us too soon.”
Grimmie was most widely known from those TV appearances two years ago, when she rocked listeners with her renditions of songs including “Wrecking Ball” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and finished third.
“The Voice” paid tribute Saturday to Grimmie on its official Twitter page: “There are no words. We lost a beautiful soul with an amazing voice.”
Grimmie first gained attention seven years ago when she posted online a video of herself playing piano and singing “Don’t Wanna Be Torn” by Miley Cyrus as television alter ego Hannah Montana.
In 2011, Entertainment Weekly crowned her “the veritable queen of YouTube musicians,” already with nearly 1 million subscribers (she has 3.2 million now), an EP of original songs (titled “Find Me”), a single (“Advice”) that was getting airplay on Radio Disney, and an opening spot touring with Selena Gomez.
Her growing success sparked Grimmie’s move to Los Angeles, far from her hometown of Marlton, New Jersey, a small community some 20 miles from Philadelphia. She was intent on finding success on her own terms, writing songs that expressed her interests, “not just dancing and getting drunk and blah-blah-blah,” as she told Entertainment Weekly. “I wanted to write with feeling and emotion.”
“She just had a really powerful voice. She was incredibly talented and she sang from her heart,” said 17-year-old Kaitlin Martin, a fan, who was waiting outside Orlando’s The Plaza Live concert venue Friday night when she heard loud “pops” coming from inside.
“We thought at first they were balloons … but then security started running all over the place yelling at people to get out because someone has a gun and someone is shooting. Everyone is just running all over the place,” said Martin, who traveled to see to the concert from Brunswick, Georgia. “It was chaos.”
Detectives were searching Loibl’s cellphone and social media accounts looking for clues as to a motive, Mina said, but they weren’t aware the suspect had stalked Grimmie.
At Loibl’s home, in St. Petersburg, someone left a note on the front door, expressing the “deepest sorrow” for the loss “to the family, friends & fans of the very talented, loving Christina Grimmie.” The note said there would be no other comment. No one answered the door to the one-story house that had a rusted, metal animal trap in the yard.
Unarmed security guards at The Plaza Live had checked bags and purses for contraband, Mina said, but there were no metal detectors or pat-downs of people as they entered the concert.
Loibl was armed with two handguns, two loaded magazines and a hunting knife, he said.
Police officers credited the singer’s brother with preventing the gunman from hurting others by tackling him. Around 120 others were present at the time.
“Very heroic actions by Marcus Grimmie to jump in and it definitely could have prevented further loss of life,” said Mina.
All events at The Plaza Live have been suspended until further notice, a spokeswoman said. “We appreciate everyone’s understanding and support during this traumatic time,” said a statement on its website.
Loibl had made travel arrangements to come to Orlando alone, as well as travel arrangements to go back home, but he didn’t have a car, Mina said. The police chief wouldn’t elaborate further.
“It does appear that he came here to commit this crime,” Mina said.
Story: Mike Schneider, Frazier Moore