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Deputy shot during traffic stop ‘not going to survive,’ Nassau sheriff says

Sheriff thankful for ‘outpouring of support’ from community

Deputy Josh Moyers, 35, joined the Nassau County Sheriff's Office in 2015.
Deputy Josh Moyers, 35, joined the Nassau County Sheriff's Office in 2015.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Nassau County deputy who had been clinging to life after he was shot early Friday morning during a traffic stop is “not going to survive” his injuries, a broken-hearted Sheriff Bill Leeper announced Saturday afternoon.

Deputy Joshua Moyers, 29, was shot twice -- once in the face and once in the back as he fell to the ground.

Leeper commended the medical personnel at UF Health Jacksonville and said they did everything possible to save Moyers.

“They’re some of the best of the best, and there was just nothing they could do for Josh,” Leeper said.

Other Nassau County deputies gather outside the ER at UF Health awaiting word on Deputy Josh Moyers, who was reported to be in extremely critical condition.

He said the family, including Moyers’ fiance, has decided to donate his organs so he is being kept alive until matches can be found.

“They’re in the process now of finding recipients for those organs, and they’ll follow that process,” Leeper said. “But unfortunately, Deputy Moyers is not going to survive.”

Leeper said Moyers will be the third deputy he’s lost in the line of duty since he became sheriff -- and the second this year. Deputy Jack Gwynes died of complications from COVID-19 in February.

A broken-hearted Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper announced Saturday that Deputy Joshua Moyers was not going to survive injuries he suffered in a shooting Friday morning during a traffic stop.
A broken-hearted Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper announced Saturday that Deputy Joshua Moyers was not going to survive injuries he suffered in a shooting Friday morning during a traffic stop.

“It’s not something that any law enforcement agency wants to go through,” Leeper said. “That’s part of the job we do. We never know what’s going to happen when we leave home that morning. This was just a traffic stop, and it turned out to be a murder of the deputy.”

Leeper said the entire incident was recorded by a Nassau County Sheriff’s Office camera.

Traffic stop turns violent

Leeper said Moyers pulled over a burgundy-colored minivan early Friday morning on US 301, and McDowell, who was driving, turned onto Sandy Ford Road before pulling over just in front of some train tracks. A woman was in the passenger seat of the van, Leeper said, when Moyers learned McDowell -- who gave him a false name -- didn’t have a driver’s license and that the tag on the van belonged to a different vehicle.

Leeper said investigators later learned the vehicle had been stolen from Jacksonville.

RELATED: Traffic stops present a high risk to law enforcement

Leeper said the encounter, which was captured on dashcam video, turned violent when Moyers went to open the driver’s door and get McDowell out of the van -- just as a train began to pass on the tracks. He said the lights and flashers of the train crossing began going off, and that’s when McDowell’s arm came out of the vehicle holding a handgun and he shot the deputy in the face.

When the deputy fell to the ground, Leeper said, McDowell reached out and shot him in the back before slamming on the gas and speeding through the railroad crossing just as the arms were coming down.

Leeper said the backup deputy Moyers had called arrived about 30 seconds later and found him lying in the road.

Sheriff: Deputy a ‘great guy’

Moyers, was hired as a Nassau County deputy in 2015 and Leeper called him “a great guy.”

Leeper said Moyers was recently engaged to be married.

Leeper visited Moyers in the hospital and met with his fiance and parents.

Several Nassau County deputies, some in dress uniform, stood watch outside UF Health’s emergency room Friday morning awaiting word on their fellow officer.

“Officers are going to support each other in times like this,” News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson said. “They are going to be here and they are here to provide that peace in that comfort, as much as they possibly can. They’re praying for each other. They’re praying for the family.”

Moyers was a 2010 graduate of Hilliard Middle-Senior High School and received law enforcement training at St. Johns River State College. The Sheriff’s Office said Moyers spent two years with the county’s Explorer program before he was hired as a deputy. He was given an award in 2018 for going above and beyond the call of duty on a narcotics case.

The photo below was taken in 2012 and posted by the Justice Coalition when Moyers was in the Explorer program.

This photo was taken in 2012 and posted on Facebook by the Justice Coalition when Moyers was in the Explorer program.

Community rallies

First Baptist Church of Yulee posted on Facebook that it was offering prayers for Moyers, who had sat outside their worship service on many Sundays, calling him a “great young deputy.”

“First Baptist joins in prayer for Deputy Moyers, his fiance and his parents knowing God is able to heal and deliver. We also are praying for Sheriff Leeper and the entire Nassau County Sheriff Department! #weareone”

Leeper said there’s been an outpouring of support from the community as people feel the need to show they care.

“We would like to have their prayers for Deputy Moyers and his family and all people in law enforcement. They need their prayers now especially,” Leeper said.

He called it a blessing to have grown up in the Nassau County community and to now lead the Sheriff’s Office to protect the county’s citizens.

A command center breakfast was set up at 5:45 a.m. Saturday at Callahan First Baptist. (Photo provided by Linda Gressman)

Callahan Mayor Matthew Davis released a statement Saturday afternoon:

The entire community of Callahan, all our thoughts and prayers, are pouring out for Deputy Moyers, his fiancé, and the entire Nassau County Sheriffs Department family. Callahan proudly stands ready to support our law enforcement family in this time of great sadness and loss. I want to thank Sheriff Leeper, all of our Nassau County deputies and all of the responding agencies working diligently to catch a murderer on the loose in our community. God we pray for justice for Deputy Moyer, the safety of our community and the protection of all the officers on their relentless pursuit.

Manhunt for suspect

The Nassau County Sheriff’s Office is looking for a 35-year-old man wanted in connection with the shooting. A spokeswoman for the sheriff said Patrick McDowell (pictured below) is considered “armed and dangerous.” If you see him, you are asked to contact the Sheriff’s Office at 904-548-4000.

A woman inside the vehicle with McDowell during the traffic stop is cooperating with investigators, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Nassau County Sheriff’s Office, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and state patrol personnel have been seen searching along U.S. 301 near Higginbotham Road and Sandy Ford Road since early Friday morning.

Leeper said a JSO K9 that came to assist the search for the suspect was also shot but is expected to recover.

Patrick McDowell (Photo from Nassau County Sheriff's Office)

About the Authors:

Brie Isom joined the News4JAX team in January 2021 after spending three years covering news in South Bend, Indiana.