Sheriff: 2 Gilchrist County deputies killed while eating at restaurant

Sgt. Noel Ramirez, Deputy Taylor Lindsey described as 'men of integrity'

By Erik Avanier - Reporter, Corley Peel - Reporter, Frank Powers - Assignment manager, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

TRENTON, Fla. - Two Gilchrist County sheriff's deputies were ambushed and killed inside a Trenton restaurant Thursday afternoon when a gunman walked up and fired through the window, authorities said.

Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz identified his two deputies as Sgt. Noel Ramirez, 29, and Deputy Taylor Lindsey, 25.

"They were men of integrity, men of loyalty. They were God-fearing, and they loved what they did. And we're proud of them," Schultz said at news conference. "They gave their lives so we can all be safe."

The shooting happened about 3 p.m. at Ace China restaurant at the intersection of State Road 26 and East Wade Street. 

WATCH: Gilchrist County sheriff's news conference

The Sheriff's Office said the 59-year-old gunman walked up the restaurant and fatally shot both on-duty deputies through the window "without warning."

Ramirez, a seven-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, and Lindsey were dead when authorities arrived at the scene, Schultz said.

"They just wanted to get something to eat. They just wanted to do their jobs," Schultz said.

Investigators said the gunman -- whom they later identified as John Hubert Highnote, of Bell, Florida -- was found dead from a gunshot wound inside a Jeep outside the restaurant.

Schultz declined to provide details on the investigation, but said he had notified the deputies' loved ones.  

"I made contact with the families, and as you can expect, you can never be prepared for this," Schultz said. "But make no mistake, they're proud of their families. They understood when their loved ones pinned on their badge and strapped on their gun, this was a possibility."

Remembering Gilchrist Heroes: Sgt. Ramirez and Deputy Lindsey

The sheriff spoke highly of the deputies, whom he said he knew personally, describing them as "heroes."

Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz

"They understood when their loved ones put on a badge and strapped on a gun, they knew this was a possibility.” – Sheriff Schultz

He said Ramirez began working at the Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office two years ago, after serving with the Levy County Sheriff's Office and the Williston Police Department. He was promoted to the rank of sergeant less than a year ago. Ramirez leaves behind a wife and two young children.

Lindsey had three years of law enforcement experience with the Sheriff's Office, and was on Ramirez's shift. 

RELATED: Condolences pour in for Gilchrist County deputies

"I'm honored that I get to work with men and women just like those two individuals," Schultz said. "I'm proud to have been their sheriff."

The Sheriff's Office said it has 66 full-time employees, 27 of whom serve as deputy sheriffs.

"It's sickening," Trenton resident Jack Martin said. "These were local officers eating their lunch and it's insane."

The residents of the small town of Trenton, about 30 miles west of Gainesville, have a close relationship with local law enforcement officers. Many said they personally know deputies by first and last name.

"I know a lot of people are mourning right now. These are people that protect us every day," Trenton resident Henry Lugo said. "It's astonishing and crazy."

Attorney General Pam Bondi tweeted Thursday evening that two victim advocates were in Trenton to offer support to the deputies' families, as well as to fellow law enforcement officers and the restaurant employees.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting the active, ongoing investigation.

In 2014, Gilchrist County was the scene of another tragedy when a man shot and killed his daughter and six grandchildren in the town of Bell. Schultz now has to deal with the loss of two of his deputies.

“Gilchrist County is resilient. We haven't been through anything quite like this before but what makes our county unique we are a family. We're going to grieve we're going to get upset, we're probably going to cuss a bit but we are going to remember what those two men are, they are heroes," said Sheriff Schultz. 

Condolences around the Nation

Condolences poured in throughout the afternoon and into the evening, coming from federal, state and local officials and agencies, including President Donald Trump.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.