LAKELAND, Fla. — Four people were killed, an 11-year-old girl was shot and deputies came under fire early Sunday in a neighborhood in North Lakeland, Florida.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the shootings took place at 4:30 a.m. in two separate houses.
Judd said two separate shootouts occurred “in short order” between police and the suspect, who surrendered after being wounded. Lakeland police and troopers from the Florida Highway Patrol were also involved. After the suspect was in custody, police discovered an 11-year-old girl who had been shot “multiple times,” as well as a man, two women and an infant dead.
No police were injured in the shootout.
Judd said the suspect, whom he did not identify, was a survivalist “who came for a gunfight.” He said the suspect admitted to using methamphetamine.
Judd said a deputy went to the neighborhood at 7:30 p.m. Saturday when a woman called to report a suspicious call in which a man told her, “God sent me here to speak with one of your daughters.”
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Nine hours later, Judd said, a lieutenant about two miles away heard two volleys of gunfire from the area of the original call. At the same time, 911 calls began coming in reporting an active shooting.
When deputies and other law enforcement arrived, they saw a truck on fire and a popping noise coming from the front yard. As they approached, they found an individual who was “totally outfitted in body armor and looked as though he was ready to engage us in an active shooter situation.” Judd said.
“But we didn’t see a firearm.”
Judd said the man ran back in the house and deputies heard a gunshot, “and a woman scream and a baby whimper.”
The lieutenant tried to enter the house but it was barricaded, Judd said. He then went to the rear of the house and entered, exchanging gunfire with the suspect before backing out of the house.
Judd said three deputies at the front of the house were pinned down by gunfire from the suspect, and other agents on scene opened fire to help the deputies get to safety.
Shortly thereafter, Judd said things went silent and the suspect came out of the house with his hands up. He had been shot once.
Judd said the suspect was taken to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center for treatment. While being treated, Judd said, “he jumped up and tried to grab the Lakeland police officer’s gun, and they had to fight with him again in the emergency room.”
They subdued the suspect and continued treating him.
Meanwhile, authorities on the scene entered one of the homes, where they found an 11-year-old girl shot several times. Deputies also found a man, woman and infant dead from gunshot wounds inside. When deputies went to the home behind that one, they found another woman shot to death.
The 11-year-old girl was taken to Tampa for treatment. Judd said authorities were still searching for another young girl, “about 10 or 11 years old,” but there was no evidence that she was on scene.
Judd said the suspect told deputies, “You know why I did this,” and described himself as a survivalist.
The incident matches the worst mass killing in Polk’s history. In December 1997, Nelson Serrano gunned down his former business partner George Gonzalves, 69, and Frank Dosso, 35, Diane Dosso Patisso, 27, and George Patisso, 26, at Erie Manufacturing in Bartow.
Serrano was sentenced to death in 2006. But in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death penalty process unconstitutional and opened the door for Serrano, and others on death row, to be resentenced. He remains on death row awaiting the resentencing.