‘We lost a great man,' says friend of AT&T worker, father of 5, killed on the job

Phillip Harley was 37

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After two men were shot and killed while working on a cellphone tower on Jacksonville’s Westside, a coworker is now saying he has always worried something like this could happen on the job.

Phillip Harley, 37, was one of the two men shot Thursday at the tower off Firestone Road and Morse Avenue.

As telecommunication technicians, Harley and his colleague traveled from Thomaston, Georgia to work in Jacksonville last week.

Phillip Harley
Phillip Harley (Provided by family)

An officer at the scene Thursday said it was unclear if the shooting was part of a robbery.

Both victims were found just after 6 a.m. inside a small building at the base of the tower.

Each had been shot multiple times in the early morning hours.

Guy Robinson called Harley his best friend.

Robinson and Harley had been working together as telecommunication technicians for years. Their work involves being subcontracted out by network providers, such as AT&T, to upgrade wireless network equipment across the Southeast.

Robinson said he’s always fretted over something like Thursday’s tragedy. And he never imagined it would happen to his best friend, who’s a father of five.

“We lost a great man,” Robinson said. “(He was) just working to feed his family, and this is how he gets repaid.”

Robinson immediately drove down to Jacksonville when he heard his best friend had been killed. He was the one to pick up their shared tools and equipment and retrieve their box truck from the crime scene.

“I had to go be with the detectives and everything on that,” Robinson said. “I’m really at a loss for words, to be honest with you.”

Harley and his coworker got to the Firestone Road tower about 10 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. Their bodies were found the next morning.

Police are piecing together what happened in the hours in between.

Robinson said overnight hours on tower sites are inherently dangerous due to low visibility and poor security.

“Sometimes you can close the gate and lock it, but even if you do close the gate and lock it, they can easily get in,” Robinson said. “And if you’re shut in the shelter, there’s no windows or anything, so you can’t see out.”

He said sometimes they can't even close site gates, because some perimeters are too small to fit their utility truck.

Robinson said, to his knowledge, whoever did this did not steal any tools or equipment and that his friend is dead over whatever small amount they found in Harley's pockets.

While neighbors told News4Jax the wooded block around Firestone Road and Morse Avenue is quiet, there was an armed robbery reported at the address of that cellphone tower two nights before the shooting.

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said there’s a strong possibility the two incidents are related.

“You hate to hear and see the sort of thing happen -- not just in our city, but anywhere,” Jefferson said. “You’ve got two males working on their job just trying to make a living for their families and you come across this sort of thing. It turns your stomach.”

Harley is survived by a wife and five kids. A GoFundMe created to help his family raised $17,000 in two days.

JSO did not identify the second man shot to death.

Family and friends identify him on social media as Michael Thomas. A GoFundMe started to help with Thomas’s funeral expenses said he had one of the biggest hearts on earth: ”He was generous to a fault sometimes. This fundraiser is to raise money for his memorial service and burial. So on behalf of the Thomas family, please return a small amount of generosity back so we can all come together to to remember Mike Thomas.”

News4Jax has not been able to reach Thomas's family.

AT&T released a statement saying: “This is a terrible tragedy and our thoughts go out their family, friends and colleagues. We are assisting the local sheriff’s department with their investigation.”

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