Two Florida sheriff’s deputies were shot and killed while eating in a restaurant Thursday afternoon by an attacker found dead outside shortly after, police said.
Authorities said they did not immediately know the shooter’s motivation for the sudden burst of violence in Gilchrist County, Fla., a small community in northern Florida about 40 miles west of Gainesville.
“I don’t have answers to why this happened,” Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert D. Schultz III said at a news briefing.
Schultz identified the slain officers as Sgt. Noel Ramirez, 29, a seven-year law enforcement veteran, and Deputy Taylor Lindsey, 25, a three-year law enforcement veteran. Schultz said Ramirez had children and was married, while Lindsey was not married but had a girlfriend.
The two were “the best of the best,” Schultz said. “They’re men of integrity. They’re men of loyalty. They’re God-fearing. And they loved what they did. And we’re very proud of them.”
According to the sheriff’s office, they were eating inside the Ace China restaurant in Trenton, Fla., at around 3 p.m. when “a suspect walked up to [the] business and shot both deputies through the window.”
When other deputies responded to the restaurant, they found the shooter dead outside. Schultz did not say how the attacker died, only calling the person a “coward.” The sheriff also said authorities believe this person acted alone.
Late Thursday, the sheriff’s office identified the shooter as John Hubert Highnote, 59, of Bell, another town in the county. The sheriff’s office said the shooter was found dead of a gunshot wound, though police did not say whether it was self-inflicted.
“Both our heroes had simply sat down to eat while on duty,” the sheriff’s office said in the statement late Thursday. “There was no crime in progress, no disturbance. The suspect appears to have walked to the front of the business and shot both men without warning. Two holes in the window are visible tonight.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting, Schultz said. A spokesperson for the department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.
While acknowledging that officials did not know a motivation for the shooting yet, Schultz on Thursday evening alluded to tensions that have emerged in recent years as police have faced questions and criticism regarding how officers use deadly force.
“We’re not going to make this a political issue, other than the fact: What do you expect happens when you demonize law enforcement to the extent that it’s been demonized?” Schultz asked. “Every type of hate, every type of putdown that you can think of. The only thing these men were guilty of was wanting to protect you and me.”
He continued: “They just wanted to get something to eat, and they just wanted to do their job.”
There were 129 law enforcement deaths in the line of duty last year, down from the 143 officers who died in 2016, according to a report from the National Law Enforcement Memorial Fund, a nonprofit group that tracks such deaths.
The number of officers fatally shot declined last year to 44 such officers, falling from the 66 officers shot and killed in 2016, the memorial fund found. The increase that year was fueled in particular by ambushes that killed eight officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Overall, it has become statistically much safer to be a police officer in recent decades, with line-of-duty deaths falling by more than half since the 1970s.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said he was “heartbroken” by the shootings.
“It is true evil for anyone to hurt a law enforcement officer, and in Florida, we have zero tolerance for violence, especially against the police,” Scott said in a statement.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) released a statement decrying the deaths of officers “senselessly killed today while in the line of duty.”
“The daily risk that law enforcement officers take to protect our communities is overwhelming,” Bondi said. “My deepest condolences and prayers are with their families as they mourn the devastating loss of their loved ones.”
This is a developing story and it has been updated.