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What were two British tourists doing in Florida gangland?

16-year-old arrested over double murder

Detectives investigating the murder of two British holidaymakers in Florida are trying to piece together how they arrived in an area known for gang-related activity in the early hours of Saturday morning.

University friends James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 24, were found shot dead in a narrow street in an impoverished part of the city of Sarasota on the state's south-west coast. They were lying 50ft away from each other when police arrived, responding to a emergency call at 3am.

A 16-year-old boy, Shawn Tyson, has been arrested and charged with two counts of murder. A detention hearing was held yesterday for Mr Tyson, who has been charged as a juvenile. Florida imposes the death penalty for certain offences but the suspect would not qualify for it if he were convicted as a juvenile. However, a Sarasota criminal defence attorney, Peter Collins, said at a press conference: "It's a foregone conclusion he is going to be charged as an adult." A police source told The Independent that Mr Tyson has at least one previous arrest.

There were unconfirmed reports last night that the pair may have been killed as part of a gang initiation, or that they were victims of an ambush.

The victims had been on a night out in central Sarasota and had made their way to the housing project some distance away. The area of Newtown is known for having a higher-than-normal crime rate, police said, and it was "very unusual" to find tourists there.

Investigators were trying to determine how the friends ended up 12 miles away from the island resort town of Longboat Key, where they were staying on holiday. Captain Paul Sutton, of the Sarasota police department, said: "It is a residential neighbourhood with no shops and no bars. We do not know what brought them here at 3am .The mystery is that they were on a night out in Sarasota and somehow they got from downtown to this residential area and they did not have a car."

Captain Sutton said the Britons were carrying neither drugs nor weapons nor an unusually large amount of money. He also denied earlier reports that a machine gun had been used in the murders, but refused to identify the firearm. Asked whether there could be more arrests in the case, he said: "We're looking at the possibility. More than one person ran when the shots were fired."

Mr Kouzaris, from Northampton, was on a three-week holiday in Florida, staying with Mr Cooper, from Warwick, and his family. The two became friends during their time studying together at the University of Sheffield.

Friends and family paid tribute to the pair on Monday. In a statement released through Northamptonshire Police, Mr Kouzaris's family said: "James was a wonderful son. We loved him so much and we can't believe he has gone. We are absolutely devastated and in a state of complete shock."

Mr Kouzaris's sister Emily added in a tribute on Facebook: "My brother was a legend and he will be missed and loved by many, many people." James Thomas, an old school friend and former rugby team-mate of Mr Kouzaris, described him as "a fantastic lad". He said: "He was our rugby captain and a great role model, leading by example."

Mr Cooper was a tennis coach. A friend and former coach, James Roe, from Kenilworth Tennis, Squash and Croquet Club, said: "He started off as a pupil but he became a really good friend ... He was an only child and was the apple of his mum and dad's eye. He was a model student and a cracking tennis player."