LAKELAND, Fla. — SWAT team members on Friday fatally shot a man suspected of killing a sheriff’s deputy a day earlier, ending an intensive manhunt that had gripped this rural area, officials said.
The suspect was shot numerous times after he was found in thick brush, just 100 yards away from where Deputy Vernon Matthew Williams was killed in Thursday’s burst of gunfire, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.
The suspect refused to show both of his hands when officers commanded him to, Judd said. He said the officers opened fire after seeing that he appeared to have Williams’ .45-caliber weapon, Judd said. It was unclear if the man also fired the gun.
Judd still did not know the man’s name, but said it was the same person whose photo was released Thursday.
“I trust God to be the judge and jury better than anyone on earth,” Judd said.
‘Burst of gunfire’
Hundreds of officers had used night-vision scopes, tracking dogs, helicopters and door-to-door searches to try to locate the man, who fled from Williams after another deputy had stopped him for speeding.
His face was identified by that deputy, Douglas Speirs, who was shot in the leg moments after Williams was killed. Williams, 39, probably died instantly, Judd said.
“He was shot multiple times. I don’t believe he felt a thing,” he said.
Williams’ family had been told of the suspect’s death, Judd said.
Speirs, 39, was treated for a gunshot wound to the leg and released Thursday evening, Judd said. Williams’ police dog, Diogi, was also killed.
Speirs had stopped the gunman for speeding in north Lakeland near Interstate 4 and became suspicious of the man’s identification. The gunman got nervous and bolted into the woods, Judd said.
Speirs pursued him and called for backup. Williams arrived and they began working their way into the woods, Judd said.
As the officers tracked him, there was a “burst of gunfire” that is believed to have killed Williams and his police dog, Judd said. Speirs returned fire and was shot.
The suspect later exchanged gunfire with a Lakeland police detective who was at a home warning residents to stay inside. No one was hit.
Some officers who helped with the search had driven for hours to get to the scene, about 35 miles east of Tampa.
Judd said 10,000 to 15,000 people live in the area. Officers had gone house to house Thursday in some areas asking people to lock themselves inside. Three schools were locked down for hours, and two had remained closed Friday so officers could continue to search the area.
Williams had been with the sheriff’s office since 1994. He had a wife and three children.
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