TRENTON, Fla -- Heartache continues to set in as residents in Gilchrist County deal with the aftermath of two sheriff's deputies killed in an ambush.
- 2 deputies killed in line of duty in Trenton, Florida
- Deputies from Gilchrist County in north central Florida
- Suspected gunman also dead
- PREVIOUS STORY: North Florida deputies shot dead in restaurant
- Community gathers for vigil
Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz identified the slain deputies as Sgt. Noel Ramirez, 30, and Deputy Taylor Lindsey, 25.
The deputies were getting food Thursday afternoon at the Ace China restaurant in Trenton when the shooter walked up to the building and fired at them through a window, Schultz said.
Fellow deputies responding to the scene found the shooter dead outside the business. Trenton is about 35 miles west of Gainesville.
The deputies were getting food at the Ace China restaurant in Trenton when the shooter walked up to the building and fired at them through a window. (Jason Lanning, staff)
Today, a vigil is planned for the deputies, Gilchrist County School District students and staff are being encouraged to wear blue and the tight-knit community as a whole continues to ask how did this happen.
"Sgt. Ramirez and Deputy Lindsey were the best of the best," Schultz said. "They were men of integrity, men of loyalty. They were God-fearing, and they loved what they did, and we are very proud of them."
Sgt. Ramirez leaves behind a wife and two young children. Deputy Lindsey had served three years with the Gilchrist Sheriff's Office. The small county has only 27 deputies and just 14 of those law enforcement officers are full time.
"They were the best of the best," Schultz. "They were men of integrity. They were men of loyalty.
"After 26 years of doing this, there is nothing that can prepare you for senseless deaths."
When the gunfire broke out, there was no crime in progress or disturbance taking place. The shooter has been identified as 59-year-old John Hubert Highnote.
Authorities are trying to determine a motive and learn more about the gunman.
Highnote, a resident of Bell, Florida spent time in St. Petersburg and Clearwater in the 1980s and 90s and lived in Volusia County in the early 2000s.
Sheriff Schultz said he could not begin to understand any type of motive.
"We are not going to make this a political issue, other than the fact: What do you expect happen when you demonize law enforcement to the extent it has been demonized?
"Every type of hate, every type of put down you can think of. The only thing these two men were guilty of is wanting to protect you and me."
People lined the streets for miles Friday evening as hearses carrying the bodies of the two deputies made their way back to Newberry, to the community where the men lived, served, and died.
"That's what we need to do is honor these people who put themselves out on the front line who protect us every single day," said resident Charlie Perez.
Emotions were raw as many of those same people gathered for a candlelight vigil in the deputies' honor, trying to make sense of the tragedy. Some in the crowd knew the men personally, while others who were strangers to them still considered them family.
"Just my prayers and thoughts and comfort and peace for them right now," said Linda Pagliuca.
The loss is particularly hard for fellow law enforcement officers, a stark reminder of the dangers they face on the job every day.
"This is what we live with," said Alachua Police's Loriann Hunter. "This is what we deal with. This is what happens when we're trying to eat. There's no place that's safe. This is an idyllic community — things like this don't happen."
Despite their sorrow, mourners said they were determined to let their lights shine in honor of the two men, who they described as beacons in their community whose contributions would never be forgotten.
By dusk Friday a memorial had been set up at the restaurant where the shooting occurred, and billboards at businesses in surrounding towns had gone up, expressing support for the grieving community.
Another vigil for the slain deputies is scheduled for Saturday, April 21, at Veterans Memorial Park in Trenton.