The owner of the home where one deputy was killed and another was shot Thursday night said the house was in foreclosure and he had no idea who the squatters living in the house were.
The man, who did not want to be identified, said he had lived on the property for about 10 years and was behind on his loan and declared bankruptcy. He said he had not been there in about three years, and he did not authorize the people living in the home to be there.
The deputies shot Thursday night were conducting a meth lab raid at the home on Alligator Boulevard in Middleburg. One suspect was shot and killed and five others were arrested.
The homeowner said he has been in contact with the Clay County Sheriff's Office regarding the shootings, and he said he feels horrible for the families of the detectives involved.
Ray Sutton has lived off Alligator Boulevard for 20 years. He said dozens of houses in his Middleburg neighborhood are abandoned.
"When the economy went down, I saw people start abandoning their house. I told the wife, 'Start watching the kids more. It's going to bring the riffraff in,'" Sutton said.
Sutton said the suspected drug dealers the deputies were investigating moved two houses down from him about six months ago, and he thought they were legitimate residents.
"I was down that way three weeks ago and I saw three cars backed up to the house," Sutton said. "I didn't think anything of it. Everyone's got a lot of vehicles."
According to deputies, one or more of the six suspected drug dealers were squatting in the one-story home. Neighbors said there wasn't a whole lot of activity at the house, nothing really out of the ordinary.
"I was shocked," neighbor Sandy Brooks said of the deputy's killing. "I'm in grief, feel sorry for the family and the whole community does."
Brooks lives right down the street from the crime scene. She and others arrived Friday morning to comfort fallen Detective David White's colleagues in their time of grief.
Neighbors said they wouldn't be surprised if other meth labs were in the area.
"I think they're everywhere," Sutton said. "If you don't think you have one in your neighborhood, you need to think again. They are everywhere."
Sheriff Rick Beseler said meth labs are a growing problem in Clay County. Last year, deputies busted 16 meth labs in the county alone, from Keystone to Orange Park, Green Cove Springs and Middleburg.
Hazmat crews in protective gear must carefully dispose of chemicals used to make meth.
Beseler said the suspects were in the process of cooking it, when deputies arrived. It took the Drug Enforcement Administration, Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Clay County Sheriff's Office all night to neutralize the chemicals and safely remove them before the shooting investigation could even begin.
People use cleaning supplies and cold remedies to make meth, and when the chemicals combine, it's extremely dangerous.
"They're not only factories that make a dangerous drug that people put in their bodies that makes them do crazy things, they're also a hazard to anyone nearby because they're extremely volatile and can explode and cause fires and damage and can also injure children who may be in close proximity," Beseler said.