OAKLEAF, Fla. - Hours after deputies identified an 18-year-old gunman who ambushed a customs agent Tuesday afternoon, the man's mother issued a statement expressing "horror and grief" over the attack, and his friends created a memorial near where his life ended.
Thomas Jacob "Jake" Lewis IV opened fire and critically wounded the agent in the parking lot of a Publix shopping center in the Oakleaf area. He then fatally shot himself, according to the Clay County Sheriff's Office.
“I just want to let everyone know that he did do something wrong, but he is still dead, and you guys are downing an 18-year-old who is dead,” Lewis' ex-girlfriend, Alyse Wilson, said.
Lewis had an active warrant out for his arrest on charges of selling drugs, deputies said.
The agent, who is a pilot for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Air and Marine Operations agency, was taken to a local hospital, where he underwent surgery for serious injuries and was in critical condition Wednesday, deputies said. The pilot's name has not been released.
Deputies confirmed via Twitter on Wednesday that the agent was targeted because he was a law enforcement officer.
Lewis' family told News4Jax on Wednesday that Lewis had a history of behavior issues, but they don't know why he would harm an officer.
Renee Lewis said in her statement Wednesday that although her son no longer lived with her "as a result of the structure and discipline" that she attempted to place on him, she "loved him dearly" and was in touch with him through text messaging.
As the mother of Jake Lewis, I can only express my horror and grief at yesterday's events. ... When the Clay County Sheriff's Office called me yesterday regarding his arrest warrant, I contacted Jake immediately and begged him to turn himself in," Renee Lewis said in her statement. "I would ask first for your prayers on behalf of the wounded officer and our law-enforcement community as they face danger every day. Second, I ask for your prayers for a grieving family that will try to remember Jake from better times. Finally, if it is in your heart, I ask for your prayers for the soul of my deceased son."
Renee Lewis also asked for privacy during a difficult time for her and her family.
In several Facebook messages, friends revealed a lot about Jake Lewis, saying he had a tough childhood and went through a lot with his parents, who are divorced.
They said he was a loving person and they aren't sure why he shot the agent. The memorial they created includes messages and tokens of their love.
“We came out here and did this whole thing this afternoon, and so many people came out to stand in 100-degree weather and no one cared,” Jake Lewis' friend, Macie Swanhart, said. “We are all here to show our love for him.”
Swanhart said it wasn't like her friend to do something like that.
“He wasn't that type of person,” Swanhart said. “As far as why, we don't know. All we can do is love him and remember him for the good times we had with him.”
Federal agent targeted
Clay County Sheriff's Office Chief of Investigations Wayne McKinney said Tuesday that the shooting was reported about 3:11 p.m. in the Oakleaf Commons shopping center on Oakleaf Plantation Parkway, just west of Branan Field Chaffee Road.
McKinney said the customs pilot left the Publix and was carrying groceries to his personal truck when Jake Lewis drove up from behind him, pulled out a small-caliber handgun and fired several shots as he passed the agent, who was struck in the abdomen multiple times.
The agent was caught completely off guard and did not return fire, McKinney said.
After Jake Lewis fired at the agent, he continued driving down the parking lane and apparently fatally shot himself, causing his car to then hit several vehicles in the parking lot, McKinney said.
The agent was wearing a uniform, badge and shoulder holster and was targeted as a law enforcement officer, McKinney said. He added that there does not appear to have been any previous contact between the two men.
McKinney said being the target of such a "heinous" crime is a danger for any law enforcement officer.
“It is disturbing. It is something that we live with each and every day, knowing that going out in our community there are individuals that would target us just for the badge we wear on our chest," McKinney said. "It is disturbing, but we're trying to keep our feelings out of it at this time and conduct the investigation to the utmost of our abilities."
McKinney said there are more than two dozen witnesses to the shooting, and some of them said Jake Lewis was driving around the parking lot before the ambush.
The FBI is now investigating why Jake Lewis targeted the agent and opened fire on him in public.
News4Jax went door to door Wednesday asking business owners in the shopping center for surveillance video of the incident. A liquor store next to the Publix has video, but the cameras never captured the shooting. In the video, people can be seen looking into the distance, shocked at the commotion.
"I was totally surprised when I heard about it because pretty much, it's safe out here," said Alvin Frith, who lives near the shopping center. "That's one of the reasons we moved here."
Frith said he sympathizes with Jake Lewis' family.
"Parents can't be with your kids 24 hours a day," he said. "(You) just hope you instill all of the right morals snd give them the right guidance in their upbringing that they'll turn out OK and be good citizens."
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