Residents remember fallen Kissimmee police officers

By Julie Gargotta , Reporter
Last Updated: Saturday, August 19, 2017, 6:42 PM EDT

As the Kissimmee Police Department reels from the loss of two of their own, those who knew the men are sharing their memories.

“It hurts to know this happened to such a great man who serves Kissimmee," said Corinne Cordon.

Although her sisters knew Sergeant Richard “Sam” Howard from Osceola High, Cordon met the 36-year-old when he patrolled Valencia College. She said Howard always had a smile on his face and was a staple in the community, including the local YMCA.

“He’s always warm, welcoming,” said Cordon. “A big teddy bear on campus, I’d definitely say. He is absolutely faithful to the city. He was that real Kissimmee cowboy here.”

Soneida Paulino, meanwhile, met 27-year-old KPD officer Matthew Baxter as he canvassed her neighborhood.

“Every time he was on duty, he would drive over here, he would always stop by my house and say, ‘How you doing today?’” she said.

Over time, Paulino grew closer with Baxter, thinking of him as a mentor.

“He was always a decent man. It made me look up up to him," she said. “He was such a great person. And so was Sergeant Sam.”

However, on Friday night, Kissimmee was suddenly lit with blue and red lights. Officers came from neighboring jurisdictions to set up a perimeter, blocking off streets to back their brothers in blue.

“My mind is just racing, thinking who can this be? And then they finally said Sam," said Cordon.

Cordon began streaming online, later posting with the hashtag "Pray for Sam."

“My mama told me, she was like, ‘You’re not going to believe it. But Baxter died,'" said Paulino, as tears welled up in her eyes. “It’s crazy how somebody would just take somebody’s life like that. They don’t know that that person has family and friends and kids.”

Paulino went to the hospital and spoke with a Chaplain. She then cried all night, thinking about the pain in which Baxter’s family was experiencing.

“How can you just loose somebody you love so much?” she asked. “He was the type of person that you could really bond with. He wasn’t a cop who was stuck up.”

On Saturday afternoon, KPD announced with "heavy hearts" Howard's passing.

"I am definitely praying for him and his family," said Cordon. “A lot of people may have a bad perception of what police are. Sam, he was unlike any other.”

Howard was a 10-year veteran of the force and married with one child.

Baxter has been with KPD for three years. He’s married to a fellow officer and father to four children.