More than a day after two inmates at Columbia Correctional Institute were hospitalized, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed they were shot. Investigators said they were not shot by correctional personnel, but have provided no details about who did the shooting or how a gun got inside the prison.
The first report of the incident came in a 911 call from the prison just after 5 p.m. Saturday saying two inmates had been stabbed. As Columbia County deputies and rescue units were headed to the scene, the call changed to a double shooting.
The Sheriff's Office said one inmate was transported to the hospital via helicopter, the other in an ambulance. Their names have not been released, but state officials said their injuries were not life-threatening.
The Florida Department of Correction's Rapid Response Team was sent to the prison, but the CCI remained on lockdown all weekend.
Assistant Warden Randall Polk told the Lake City Reporter newspaper that the gun used was found Saturday night in the prison, but that the shooter was still unknown.
The FDLE, DOC and State Attorney's Office are investigating the incident.
"Protecting the safety of Florida's families is the primary mission of the Florida Department of Corrections," the department said in a statement Monday. "The Department of Corrections continues to work closely with its law enforcement partners on this active, ongoing investigation. At this point, we cannot comment further on the details related to this incident."
Former inmate Victor Hicks, who went through the prison system years ago, said if an inmate did in fact smuggle a gun into the prison, that's scary.
"I mean, for an inmate to get a gun, that's pretty shocking," he said.
Hicks said he's now on the right path, but got in trouble when he was younger and spent some time in prison, so he knows what the system is like.
"First thoughts, was that someone who tried to escape, someone in the tower shot the inmates? But apparently that's not the case," Hicks said. "How would you do that? How do you convince someone to bring in a firearm? That's pretty scary."
Columbia Correction Institution is the same prison where Corrections Officer Ruben Thomas was killed two years ago when inmate Richard Franklin stabbed him 14 times with a makeshift knife. Thomas left behind a wife and a young daughter and they had another child on the way.
Thomas' name was added to the National Fallen Law Officers' Memorial in Washington D.C. last year.
Last month a 51-year-old prisoner was accused of attacking two corrections officers during what corrections officials called a "use of force" incident. Two officers were taken to an outside medical facility for treatment but their injuries were described as minor.
Paula Thomas, Ruben's mother, said unfortunately this type of thing will continue to happen until there are major changes made in the prison system. She said hopefully because it's an election year, there will start to be some changes, such as giving prison guards guns and safety vests, allotting more money to hire more manpower, and having a better classification of the inmates.