Florida deputies and officers responded to an “active shooter rampage” early Sunday, as a gunman “outfitted in body armor” allegedly killed four people, including an infant, and wounded an 11-year-old girl before barricading himself inside a house and firing at law enforcement.
The unidentified suspect, who eventually surrendered to police, had come “ready for battle,” had described himself a “survivalist” and allegedly admitted to “being high on meth,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at an initial press conference Sunday.
Judd described how a deputy initially responded to a “suspicious vehicle/person” call around 7:30 p.m. Saturday in an unincorporated area of Lakewood. A woman told authorities a man had arrived in a vehicle and told her, “God sent me here to speak with one of your daughters,’” Judd said.
Deputies canvassed the area for about 20 minutes but no one was found. Nine hours later, a lieutenant in the area on a separate call heard “two volleys of automatic gunfire” around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Judd said, and around the same time, 911 calls came in about the active shooting.
Law enforcement tactfully approached the property and observed a truck on fire, a popping noise in front yard, breakable lights lining the path from road up to house, and an “individual totally outfitted in body armor,” Judd said. At that point, the suspect ran back into the house.
“We’re way out in the country area, so it’s not unusual to see people in camo, but he was garbed up and it appears that he had bulletproof vests on, and he immediately ran back into this house,” the sheriff said. “We didn’t know who he was, we didn’t see a gun.”
“At that point in time, we heard another volley, and a woman scream and a baby whimper. Our lieutenant tried to make entry into the front of the house, and it was barricaded,” Judd continued. “He ran around to the back of the house and made entry and met the person, and a gunfight ensued. The suspect shot at our lieutenant. Our lieutenant returned fire and backed out of the house.”
Responding units directed gunfire toward the house, and preliminary information indicates at least dozens, if not hundreds, of rounds were fired between suspect and deputies. A law enforcement helicopter over the seen finally saw the suspect come out with his hands raised.
The suspect, who had been shot once, was handcuffed and brought to a staging area to be treated by EMS, until he was transported to Lakeland Regional Hospital. After arriving to the emergency room, the suspect jumped up and tried to grab a Lakeland police officer’s gun, Judd said. He was then sedated and is expected to be treated and released from the hospital. He then will be booked, and exact charges are pending.
Deputies who made entry to the home found an 11-year-old girl who had been shot multiple times. She was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, and was undergoing surgery early Sunday.
“She looks our deputy in the eye and says ‘there’s three more dead people in the house,’” Judd said. “We made entry – first with our robots to make sure there were no explosive devices. And, in the main house, we discovered a man, a woman, and an infant in the mother’s arms all shot to death.”
“We went to the house directly behind and found another lady shot to death,” the sheriff said. “This man killed four people. Tried to kill our deputies and then gave up.”
Accompanied by Lakeland police and Brian Haas, the State Attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit, Judd also issued a stern warning for lawmakers who suggest drug use is a non-violent crime. The sheriff said the suspect admitted to law enforcement once in custody that he was using methamphetamine.
“Now for those of you who are maybe around the country and not familiar with it, we’ve got a few legislators, fortunately just a very few, who think taking drugs are low-level, non-violent crimes,” Judd said. “I know there are people from around the country, especially the West Coast, who think these are low-level, non-violent drugs that really aren’t harmful. This guy admitted to us that he was taking those drugs before he went on this active-shooter rampage killing what we know to be four people right now.”
Authorities were looking for another child, aged 10 or 11, who Judd said was later found safe and not home at the time of the shooting.