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Nassau sheriff: Deputies kill man firing shots

31-year-old had previous arrests, but no felonies and nothing violent

YULEE, Fla. – Nassau County deputies responding to a report of a man firing shots Sunday night outside a home on Pirates Way said they killed the gunman after he fired shots at them.

Neighbors called police about 10:20 p.m. about a man with a gun. The Sheriff's Office received a second 911 call from a woman inside a home saying her friend's boyfriend had just come home and was shooting a gun outside. Deputies said they arrived to see the man go into a home in the Pirates Wood Subdivision with a small rifle. A third 911 call came from a woman inside the home who said the people inside were afraid the man was going to kill them.

According to Sheriff Bill Leeper, when the man -- later identified as 31-year-old Joshua David Merritt -- returned to the porch, he had a handgun and pointed it at deputies.

Authorities said Merritt refused to drop the gun, firing several shots at deputies instead. Deputies returned fire, striking Merritt.

Nassau County Sheriff's Office booking photo of Joshua David Merritt from previous arrest.

Nassau County Fire-Rescue responded, but Merritt was already dead. No one else was injured.

"Certainly that's not something that any officer wants to go through," Leeper said. "In this situation, the individual was shooting at them. They had no choice but to shoot back, and unfortunately the individual died."

Multiple shell casings were found inside and outside the home. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating.

"This is not something I expect to see in my neighborhood, that's for sure," one woman said. "I've been living here for over 15 years now, and I've never heard of anything like this."

Other neighbors had similar reactions.

"I was shocked, completely shocked. I wasn't expecting that at all," said Kim Murray, who lives next door to the home where the Merritt was shot. "It was quick rounds. It seemed to be pretty fast and happened pretty quick."

Murray said Merritt and the people who stayed next door to her were nice and that her daughter played with a child at the home.

"I have two small kids so it's been really stressful since early this morning, especially when you wake up and you're trying to take them to school and your yard is taped up and the forensics truck is right in your front yard basically," Murray said. "And you're trying to explain everything to your kids and make sure that they feel safe."

Records show Merritt had several previous arrests -- for drug possession and traffic violations -- but no felony arrests and nothing involving violence.

This was the fourth time Nassau County deputies have used deadly force so far this year. In February, Anthony Bartley was shot and killed after he tried to break into some homes and assaulted the first responding deputy. In March, Donnie Carroll was wounded after a convenience store holdup and pursuit. And in October, murder suspect Allen Fourtunia got into a shootout with deputies before he killed himself.