STARKE, Fla. – A deputy-involved shooting Tuesday afternoon in the sleepy town of Starke hit home for the sheriff of Bradford County.
Sheriff Gordon Smith said Devaughdre' Delsha Rogers, a young man who had grown up with his children and spent time at his home, was fatally shot by two of his deputies about 12:30 p.m. following a pursuit that ended outside the RJE Center, where a summer camp was in session, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 301 and State Road 16.
At a news conference later that evening, Smith divulged the chase stemmed from an investigation that began Monday night when shots were fired into an unoccupied car and an occupied home on Southeast 137th Terrace. The home was shot up again just after noon Tuesday. No one was hit either time.
Witnesses reported that the gunfire from a rifle and a handgun came from a gray Mercury Marquis. Smith said Sgt. Russell Gordon and a deputy-in-training were responding to the second incident of shots fired when they spotted that vehicle and a short chase ensued.
Deputy Jeffrey Smith, along with Starke Police Department units, joined the pursuit, which eventually ended at the RJE Center on Pine Street, about 3 miles away from the home that was shot up.
According to the sheriff, that's when one of three men inside the car got out, with an AK-47-style assault weapon in hand, and Gordon and Jeffrey Smith fired their agency-issued Glock 22 firearms, hitting the man, who was identified as Rogers.
Rogers was taken to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where he died.
Sheriff Smith said, "This one hit home," because Rogers grew up with his son and daughter.
"He's a young man I know well," Sheriff Smith said. "(Rogers) spent lots of time at my house -- fishing, playing ball ... It touched home. My undersheriff was his mentor."
Sheriff Smith doesn’t know what happened to Rogers in his later teenage years, but said he had some “minor offenses.”
"This kid spent a lot of time here with us," he said. "He has a great mother. My heart goes out to the family and the people in the community that it's touched.”
Rhoshanda Jackson, Rogers' cousin, said the 20-year-old didn't deserve to be shot.
"I want to know: Can they bring him back to us? No, they can’t. You take somebody’s child’s life, you cannot bring them back. You can’t," Jackson said. "I just want to know: If the tables were turned, what would they do?"
The sheriff vowed his agency will "get to the bottom of it," and "leave no stone unturned,” as it works with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which is handling the investigation.
There is dashboard camera video of the pursuit and body camera video of the confrontation. Sheriff Smith said he wants the footage to be released, but the timing of that will be up to the FDLE.
The sheriff said the driver of the car, identified as Jaylon Tyson Hankerson, was taken into custody and later booked into the Bradford County jail, but the third man ran off and remained at large as of Tuesday night.
No deputies were injured. Both Gordon, an eight-year veteran of the Bradford County Sheriff's Office, and Jeffrey Smith, a one-year veteran of the agency, were placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure.
The Sheriff's Office originally told News4Jax that one of its deputies shot the armed suspect, but later said two deputies fired shots.
Tuesday's shooting was the first reported deputy-involved shooting by the Bradford County Sheriff's Office since February 2009, when robbery suspect James Estes was shot and killed after a pursuit.
Witnesses describe deputy-involved shooting
The sound of gunshots Tuesday afternoon concerned the Starke community, but residents were even more troubled by the proximity of the deputy-involved shooting to the RJE Center.
The Rev. Alvin Green said he was on his front porch when he saw the shooting outside the recreation center, where dozens of children were attending a summer program inside.
"We heard the sirens and dogs started barking. Then, I came and looked. We saw the cars coming through the alley," Green said. "Two guys jumped out. One went running. Another went running. Police got out and hollered, 'Stop.' And then you heard about six, seven shots. Then we saw the young man fall and crawl in the gym."
Green questioned why deputies would open fire near the RJE Center.
"Our concern is that's a day care during the day," Green said. "What if a child had walked out?"
Donnell Robinson, who also lives in the neighborhood, asked the same question.
"Why would they shoot toward that gym when 30 to 40 kids are in there every day?" Robinson said.
One of the children who was inside the rec center, Andrew Simmons, recalled his teacher's reaction when the gunshots rang out.
"She was crying and then we went to go hide ... under the table," Andrew said with his grandmother, Lautara Slocum, by his side.
She raised the same question as the neighbors.
"They could've waited," Slocum said. "They know that these children were over there."
When asked at Tuesday evening's news conference about all the children in the area for the summer camp who were scared, along with their parents, the sheriff admitted he was scared too.
But Sheriff Smith said, "The bad guy decided where the shooting would take place." He added that deputies were worried he might take hostages in the building.