ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - Four men are facing homicide and robbery charges after a deadly home-invasion robbery led to a day-long manhunt near St. Augustine.
The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office identified Jeffrey Balcom, Christopher Pettigrew, Xavier Williams, and Zared Matthews as the suspects connected to the death of Paul Eugene Pettigrew Jr, 24, of Jacksonville.
Investigators said Paul Pettigrew (pictured below) and the four men tried to rob a home on Cowan Road near Green Acres Road shortly after midnight, Thursday. During the robbery attempt, the homeowner shot and killed Pettigrew.
Deputies believe the home was targeted because the suspects thought they would find drugs or cash inside.
Authorities said Paul and Christopher Pettigrew, both 18, are brothers. Paul, along with Williams, 21, and Balcom, 21, all have prior arrests that include armed robbery, burglary, drugs and weapons charges.
An 11-hour long manhunt unfolds
Deputies were dispatched to the home after a neighbor heard gunshots and called 911.
As deputies were arriving, the Sheriff's Office said they spotted the white Dodge that the suspects were traveling in. They said the four men continued driving until they reached the dead end of Old Tyme Avenue and abandoned the SUV, running into the wooded, swampy area near Usina Road.
Other deputies who went to the home found Paul Pettigrew Jr., 24, dead outside. Deputies swarmed the area and began a day-long pursuit.
Two of the suspects were captured by daybreak. A helicopter and K-9 units were called to search the area for the other two. Dozens of deputies sealed the neighborhood and searched every vehicle leaving or entering the area.
The Sheriff's Office asked residents to be cautious when they left their homes Thursday morning and to make sure there was no one lurking around their property. Deputies escorted school buses to pick up students in the neighborhood.
"I open my door and there were two men with rifles," Linda Powell told News4Jax she saw lawmen in fatigues outside her house. "They were standing there and I look out and there were two more a couple hundred feet, and down the road you saw the vehicle and two men."
Just before 1 p.m., Powell saw the two men who had eluded capture and called 911.
"I was sitting in my living room and I heard a sound and I looked up and three feet from the window ...I saw two men," Powell said.
She said they were haggard "as though they had been through it" go into her shed, grab a tarp and casually walk into the woods.
"My phone won't call from in the house," Powell said. "So I went outside and called 911, and as soon as I told them, I was going back in the house and locking up."
Within minutes, she said 30 deputies converged on her yard and captured both men.
“At this time, we feel comfortable telling people that everyone is safe," Undersheriff Matthew Cline announced at 1:30 p.m. "Thank God no bystanders were hurt or injured.”
Cline said the five suspects came from Jacksonville to the home, adding that drugs were a factor, but it wasn't known at the time if they were involved or invited to the home or they were there to rob the place.
Thankful for community response
Cline said he's thankful no bystanders were injured or hurt during the search.
"At the end of the day it was the public who felt comfortable working with law enforcement that has allowed us to nab the last two, but the fact someone had the courage to see something and say something, made the call to the SJCSO," Cline added.
According to Cline, the department used every available resource to find the men and keep residents safe. Some deputies involved in the manhunt were taken to Flagler Hospital to be treated for heat exhaustion and dehydration. One deputy was kept in the hospital overnight as a precaution, but is expected to be OK.
“There’s absolutely zero quit in the men and women out there today," Cline said.
Powell's son said he is proud of his mom's quick reaction.
"She did everything the right way, and because of that, people are behind bars and this neighborhood is a lot safer now," Junior Carter said. "To start the day, we had cop cars at every house with guns. Now, tonight, we will be nice and safe."
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