ORANGE PARK, Fla. – It struck a chord with law enforcement officers across the country when a gunman ambushed two Gilchrist County Sheriff’s deputies as they ate lunch inside a Trenton restaurant Thursday afternoon.
But perhaps no one can relate to the senseless tragedy more than Customs and Border Protection Aviation Enforcement Agent Drew Stokes – he was ambushed outside an Oakleaf Publix back in September.
On Friday, Stokes opened up to News4Jax about the shooting that nearly took his life and the striking similarities it has to the slayings of Sgt. Noel Ramirez and Deputy Taylor Lindsey.
He said both shootings happened late in the afternoon as he and the deputies were doing daily tasks. In both cases, the victims had no chance to protect themselves from their assailants.
"They didn’t have a chance just like I didn’t have a chance," he said. "But they didn’t make it and I did, and I can’t figure out why."
As with Stokes’ shooter, the gunman in Thursday’s shooting took his own life afterward.
"It’s just a senseless tragedy and the senseless act of a coward," he said.
Stokes still remembers the events that unfolded Sept. 26, 2017, like they happened yesterday. He was leaving the store with groceries in hand when he got to the curb. Then a car pulled up.
"He just screamed, 'I [expletive] hate cops!' Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam!" he recalled.
Stokes was shot five times – getting hit in both legs, the buttocks and his left forearm. But after undergoing 10 life-saving surgeries at Orange Park Medical Center, he survived the onslaught.
Stokes, who went back to work last week, was unfazed when he returned Friday to the Publix where he was shot. He said carrying on with life is part of his healing process.
"I really don’t let it bother me because I don’t want my life changed a bit by what the shooter did," he said.
Stokes said tragedies like what happened to the deputies in Trenton are becoming far too common. He said it's something law enforcement officers have to keep in mind on a daily basis.
"Unfortunately in today's world... we have to think about these things now, that just a simple task could our lives because some people just don't like law enforcement," he said.
He said his thoughts and prayers go out to the families and loved ones of the two deputies killed in the line of duty Thursday, adding that he plans on attending their funerals.