TRENTON, Fla. – Two Florida deputies shot and killed Thursday afternoon as they ate at a Trenton restaurant were shot by a gunman who walked in, opened fire, then went outside and took his own life, according to the latest information from the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office.
"Those two heroes walked in there to have a meal together and they were ambushed," said Lt. Scott Tummond, a Levy County public information officer who is helping Gilchrist County get out information for the killings.
Sgt. Noel Ramirez, 30, and Deputy Taylor Lindsey, 25, were killed while getting food at the Ace China restaurant in Trenton, about 35 miles west of Gainesville.
The grief-stricken Gilchrist County sheriff said Thursday night that his deputies were shot through the window before the gunman walked back to his Jeep, where he was found dead. Authorities have now confirmed that that man killed himself.
The shooter was identified as John Hubert Highnote, 59, from Bell -- a town just up the road from the Chinese restaurant where the deputies were shot.
"He’s a coward, period. We don’t have any more information to release about him," said a statement released Friday by Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz. "The criminal investigation will ultimately determine some facts, but there will never be a reason for what he did ... nor will it ever satisfy their families. They sat down to eat, and were here to serve."
Tummond said Highnote had no prior history with the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office and said that the officers were in uniform when they were shot.
"It appears he just walked up and shot them, then went to his car and shot himself. It's inexplicable," State Attorney Bill Cervone said. "People will want to know why, and we may never have an answer for them."
While Highnote's motive wasn't immediately known, but the sheriff blamed Thursday's killings on hatred toward law enforcement.
"What do you expect happens when you demonize law enforcement to the extent it's been demonized? Every type of hate, every type of put-down you can think of," Schultz said at a news conference.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is leading the investigation into the shootings. A hotline was set up, and anyone with information about the shooting or Highnote is asked to call 352-463-7809.
Ramirez and Lindsey were the first law enforcement officers to lose their lives in the line of duty in Gilchrist County since the sheriff, Mark Read, was killed by a drunk man with a shotgun in 1956.
"The only thing these men were guilty of is wanting to protect you and me. They just wanted to get something to eat, and they just wanted to do their job," he said.
Schultz said he rushed to the scene, and then had the difficult task of calling the families of Ramirez, who is survived by his wife and two young children, and Lindsey, who joined the Sheriff's Office in 2013.
"Sgt. Ramirez and Deputy Lindsey were the best of the best," Schultz said. "They were men of integrity, men of loyalty. They were God-fearing, and they loved what they did, and we are very proud of them."
Honoring the fallen
All day Friday people brought flowers, candles and remembrances for the two deputies killed at the Ace China restaurant in the heart of Trenton.
"This is the worst thing that could ever happen," Barbara Polet said.
That sentiment is obvious throughout this town of 2,000, which is the county seat. Throughout Trenton and other nearby small towns, numerous signs expressed concern and sympathy.
People who live near the restaurant and eat there often were especially moved. One woman told News4Jax she heard the gunshots and knew something bad had happened.
People in the town say they are pulling together to get through this and want the families of the officers to know they are thinking of them.
"It just feels like a part of you was gone," said Fay Loggins, who lives across the street from the restaurant and waved to the deputies when they passed.
Friday's statement from the Sheriff's Office acknowledged "the enormous outpouring of support."
"Sometimes the offer, as simple as a bottle of water handed to a deputy maintaining the crime scene until after midnight last night, was more comforting than you can imagine. Right now, we have no unmet needs as an agency," the statement read. "For those that want to continue to help, what matters most to me is that you take a moment to thank the next law enforcement officers you see. And pray for Noel and Taylor. That’s what we all need."
The Sheriff's Office also cautioned people about anyone asking for donations for the officers' families. The only official benefit accounts are at Drummond Community Bank and donations can only be made at bank branches.
According to the Gilchrist County School District, funeral services for the fallen deputies will take place Tuesday at Bell High School.
"Out of respect for the sacrifice they made to protect our community and love for our sheriff’s department, we will be closing all schools for students on Tuesday, April 24th in their honor," the school district posted on its Facebook page.