Strawn, a school resource deputy, detailed where the crimes took place before announcing he was going to kill himself at nearby Plant City High School, County Sheriff Chad Chronister said during a news conference. His final transmission alluded to emotional and financial issues.
“The supervisor immediately got on air and did everything they could to talk him down, calm him down, and bring some calm to the situation,” Chronister said. They implored him: " 'Don’t do something that’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.’ “
But their pleas were futile.
Three deputies soon located Strawn near Plant City High School and again begged him not to pull the trigger. He shot himself moments later in front of his colleagues.
Officials say they are still working to understand what led Strawn to violence. He apparently suggested during the radio call that he “was losing everything” and “had to go be with his family,” the sheriff said. The Tampa Bay Times reported that Strawn and his wife purchased a house this year, according to court records, and had filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011.
Until the killings, Strawn, who was hired by the department in 1991, maintained a “phenomenal reputation,” Chronister said.
When Strawn was commended for his work in 2009, then-Sheriff David Gee said that “Deputy Strawn is persistent, leaving no stone unturned in his pursuit of the lawbreakers,” adding that “His high rate of success in the location and capture of numerous suspects has earned him this year’s top honor in east Hillsborough County,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Strawn retired briefly about two years ago but was rehired last summer as a school security deputy at Valrico Elementary School — which his granddaughter attended.
The sheriff said Strawn passed a background check and psychological exam when he was hired back, which included a verbal examination and interview with a psychiatrist. He never faced any serious disciplinary issues.
“Nothing that would lead any employee to believe this employee was struggling,” Chronister said.
Chronister said Strawn was excited about his job at Valrico Elementary School. Hillsborough County Schools released a statement after the incident, ABC Action News reported:
The staff and families at Valrico Elementary are devastated by this unthinkable tragedy. Londyn was a first grade student at the school. She loved to learn and was excited about reading and math. She had a kind spirit and always helped classmates. The news came as a shock to everyone at the school and they are working through their grief. Our district has crisis team members at the school to work with staff members. We have let parents know crisis team members will be at school Thursday for any students who want to talk.Hillsborough County Schools
The incident is the second murder-suicide to hit this community in recent months. In September, 39-year-old Deputy Kirk Keithley — also a Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy — killed his wife before shooting himself, ABC Action News reported. Four children were inside the home during that incident, though none were harmed.
Law enforcement officers face a 69 percent higher risk of suicide compared with the general population, John Violanti, who studies police stress at the University of Buffalo, told The Washington Post’s Michael Miller. According to the police nonprofit organization Badge of Life, 140 law enforcement officers took their lives last year in the United States, up from 108, in 2016.
“We have to change the culture,” Chronister said Wednesday. “We have to make sure everyone knows it’s okay to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness to say: ‘Hey, I’m having a difficult time. I’m having a hard time. I need some help.’ "
If you’re thinking about suicide or worried about someone who might be, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline [suicidepreventionlifeline.org] at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to connect with a local crisis center. You can also text the Crisis Text Line [crisistextline.org] by messaging 741741. Police officers can text the word BLUE.