A gunman wearing body armor described by a sheriff as “ready for battle” shot and killed four people, including a baby, early Sunday morning at two homes near Lakeland, Florida and exchanged gunshots with deputies before he was killed. was taken into custody, authorities said.
The gunman, who also shot and injured an 11-year-old girl, surrendered after being shot at least once during two shootouts with deputies involving dozens, if not hundreds of shots, in an unrecorded residential area in Polk County, Florida. . County sheriff Grady Judd said at a news conference.
Three of the people killed – a man, a woman and a baby the woman was holding in her arms – were found in one house, authorities said. A fourth victim, a woman, was found dead in another house on the same property.
Investigators could not immediately say what triggered the disaster, which reportedly started around 4:30 am. They have not released the names of the victims or the gunman, who was apprehended by officers from various law enforcement agencies in tactical gear as a helicopter hovered over the scene. No deputies were injured.
While the gunman was being treated in a hospital emergency room, he tried to grab a police officer’s gun and had to be medicated and restrained, Sheriff Judd said.
“He was ready for battle,” Sheriff Judd said of the gunman, who he said had told deputies he was a “survivalist” and was taking methamphetamine.
The 11-year-old girl was flown to Tampa, Florida, about 35 miles southwest of Lakeland, and underwent surgery, the sheriff said. She did “good,” he said, speaking to detectives. Additional information about her condition was not immediately available.
“She looked our officers in the eye and said, ‘There are three more dead people in the house,'” Sheriff Judd said.
He said the first indication that something was wrong came around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, when a woman called authorities to say a suspicious man was in a parked vehicle nearby.
She told them about a terrifying encounter with the man, who she said told her that “God sent me here to talk to one of your daughters.”
By the time a deputy arrived six minutes later, the man was gone, Sheriff Judd said.
About nine hours later, a sheriff’s lieutenant, who was two miles away on another call, heard two volleys of automatic rifle fire, the sheriff said. When law enforcement officers arrived at the property, which has three houses, they found a truck on fire.
“We saw a person fully outfitted in body armor and it looked like he was ready to get us all involved in an active shooting situation,” Sheriff Judd said.
The man withdrew to the house, and the sheriff said officers could hear a woman screaming and a baby whimpering after more gunshots.
The sheriff’s lieutenant tried to get into the house through the front door, but it was barricaded, the sheriff said. Entering the house from behind, the gunman began firing and the lieutenant returned fire, Sheriff Judd said, adding that three other deputies were also “pinned down” during the standoff.
Sheriff Judd said investigators found a stash of supplies in the suspect’s truck, including a first aid kit to control bleeding.
“Who in the world would ever expect to see an active gunman in a neighborhood at 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning?” he said.
Before investigators could enter the house, he said, robots were sent to check for explosives or other booby traps. He did not say whether the researchers found it.
“This is a horrific incident,” Brian Haas, the prosecutor for Florida’s 10th Judicial Circuit, said at the news conference. “Our community and many families are in pain this morning.”
During the press conference, Sheriff Judd said he regretted that the gunman had come out with his hands up instead of brandishing a weapon.
“Had he given us the chance,” he said, the officers “would have shot him hard”, and the authorities “would have had another conversation here this morning”.
“But he didn’t because he was a coward,” Sheriff Judd added. “You see, it’s easy to shoot innocent children and babies and people in the middle of the night when you have the gun and they don’t. But he wasn’t that kind of man.”