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Nassau County manhunt: Sheriff says man accused of shooting deputy will ‘pay for it’

Search continues Saturday as sheriff says deputy shot twice during traffic stop ‘not going to survive’

Patrick McDowell is on the run. More than 300 personnel are helping with the effort to find the former Marine, accused of shooting Nassau County Deputy Joshua Moyers during a traffic stop.
Patrick McDowell is on the run. More than 300 personnel are helping with the effort to find the former Marine, accused of shooting Nassau County Deputy Joshua Moyers during a traffic stop.

CALLAHAN, Fla. – As he announced that 29-year-old Deputy Joshua Moyers was “not going to survive” his injuries, an emotional Sheriff Bill Leeper said the man suspected of shooting the deputy twice during a traffic stop early Friday will “pay for it.”

An all-out manhunt continued Saturday for 35-year-old Patrick McDowell, and Leeper said he is believed to still be in the area after two items of interest were found: a flashlight and a hat.

“We found a flashlight and we believe we found his hat, so we think he’s in the area somewhere,” Leeper said.

The sheriff said the search, which involves more than 300 personnel, is covering about 5-square miles of an area that includes a mixture of homes, hunting camps and large wooded areas.

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

“We’re going to find him eventually,” Leeper said. “We’re doing the best we can, making progress, moving slowly through that area.”

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.

McDowell is accused of shooting Moyers twice -- once in the face and once in the back -- during a traffic stop early Friday near U.S. 301.

Leeper had a warning for Nassau County residents on Saturday.

“This guy is dangerous,” Leeper said of McDowell. “What he did to that deputy was uncalled for and unnecessary and he needs to pay for it.”

He also warned residents not to do anything to help McDowell escape capture.

“If we find out you’ve helped this guy, we’re going to arrest you for preventing us to capture him,” Leeper said.

The Nassau County Sheriff’s Office said CrimeStoppers is offering a $5,000 reward and the FOP is donating $10,000 more for a $15,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of Patrick McDowell. Call 1-866-845-8477 or dial **TIPS (star star 8477) on your cellphone if you have any information about McDowell’s whereabouts. You will remain anonymous and could be eligible for a cash reward, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The Florida Sheriff’s Association and Florida Deputy Association are also offering separate $5,000 rewards to the person who can help investigators locate McDowell -- for a total of a $25,000 reward available to a potential tipster.

SWAT team goes door to door

SWAT team members went door to door in Nassau County on Saturday as they continued to search for McDowell. According to the Nassau County Sheriff’s office, the SWAT team was checking to make sure residents are safe and to verify they have not seen McDowell.

“We just wanted to knock on every door, just to make sure the people who live there are safe. See if they’ve seen anything. Just look around the area to see if we see anything of interest, and just to make sure they’re safe,” Leeper said.

Keith Haley, who has lived on River Road in the area for more than 50 years, said he has never seen any manhunt to this degree.

“I would not say it was rattling, but it makes you nervous because you don’t know where this guy is,” Haley said. “He’s very dangerous.”

Nicholas Millington lives off of River Road in Nassau County, where SWAT team and other officials have been searching Saturday for McDowell.

While McDowell is still on the run, Millington took his ATV into the wooded area off of River Road to search.

“I’ve ran across a couple of officers here and there and told them that I’m in the woods,” Millington said. “‘Cause if they don’t find him, somebody in this neighborhood around here or this town will find him.”

As law enforcement from Nassau County and and multiple other agencies continue their search for McDowell, News4Jax reporter Aaron Farrar shows us the extra measures they're taking to find him.
As law enforcement from Nassau County and and multiple other agencies continue their search for McDowell, News4Jax reporter Aaron Farrar shows us the extra measures they're taking to find him.

Several neighbors described having the SWAT team members come to their door and call for them to come outside their homes. They said the officers asked if they were safe and checked to see if they were being held against their will.

In some cases, they asked the homeowners if they could search behind their houses to make sure McDowell wasn’t hiding on or near their property.

Millington said he’s scared for his family.

“This is not something you want to be involved in. Just try to keep your doors locked,” Millington said.

Other law enforcement agents were patrolling the nearby areas looking for McDowell.

RELATED: Support from community, law enforcement spreads for Nassau County deputy

McDowell is accused of shooting Deputy Joshua Moyers, 29, in the face and back, during a traffic stop on Sandy Ford Road, just off U.S. 301.

“It’s sad. It hurts my heart that the family is going through this,” said Haley, who told News4Jax he knows Moyers.

He said if SWAT comes by his home, he ready to do whatever is needed.

“I don’t have a problem with it. They have to do what they have to do to find this guy. If that’s what it takes, we have to get him,” Haley said.

Crews search through the night

Law enforcement officers from around Northeast Florida searched through the night for McDowell, who is considered “armed and dangerous.” If you see him, you are asked to contact the Sheriff’s Office immediately at 904-548-4000.

Nassau County investigators said the surveillance images pictured below were taken overnight Thursday, before Friday morning’s traffic stop and shooting, and show the clothes McDowell was believed to be wearing.

What News4Jax has learned about man suspected of shooting Nassau County Deputy

Leeper said the search, which involves at least 15 agencies, is utilizing helicopters, drones, ATVs, armored vehicles and technology that can detect heat.

According to a LinkedIn page under his name, McDowell served in the U.S. Marines from 2005-2009.

RELATED: Sheriff asks for prayers for Deputy Moyers | Schools, trains, traffic: Community impacts of manhunt for suspect

Leeper said McDowell also shot a JSO K9 with a rifle during the manhunt. The K9 is expected to be OK. Investigators found the rifle near where the K9 was shot.

Leeper posted a tweet with more photos of the suspected shooter, asking anyone who has seen him to call authorities as soon as possible.

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.

Deputy Joshua Moyers was shot twice during an early morning traffic stop -- once in the face, once in the back as he fell to the ground.
Deputy Joshua Moyers was shot twice during an early morning traffic stop -- once in the face, once in the back as he fell to the ground.

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.

He said Moyers, who joined the Sheriff’s Office in 2015, and his fiance have been planning their wedding. “Keep them in your prayers,” Leeper said.

Agencies join manhunt

After speeding away from the shooting, McDowell and the woman who was with him abandoned the van in a wooded brush area and hid under a shed nearby, but the woman told McDowell she didn’t want to be involved, left him and called 911, Leeper said. She was the one who told deputies who they were looking for.

News4Jax found that McDowell has at least three recent arrests in Duval County: one for a traffic stop and two for failure to appear in court.

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. Leeper said at least 15 agencies have assisted them in the manhunt. People in the area were asked to stay indoors.

GALLERY: Manhunt for Patrick McDowell, man accused of shooting deputy

JSO posted to social media asking anyone with external cameras in the area, including hunting cameras, to check their footage for McDowell and call Nassau County with any information.


About the Authors:

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