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Hundreds of officers comb Nassau County woods in search suspect in deputy’s murder

Dozens of agencies involved in search for Patrick McDowell

Dozens of agencies involved in search for Patrick McDowell.
Dozens of agencies involved in search for Patrick McDowell.

CALLAHAN, Fla. – More than 200 local, state and federal law enforcement officers are scouring a 5-square-mile area southwest of Callahan while a statewide Blue Alert is out for Patrick McDowell. The 35-year-old former Marine is suspected of shooting Nassau County Deputy Josh Moyers during a Friday morning traffic stop.

“We’ll continue to look as much as we can, as long as we can until we exhaust all our resources,” Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said Monday afternoon. “Everybody’s tired. Everybody needs rest. We’re not going to rest till this individual is found.”

On Day 4 of the search, Leeper said there is no evidence to suggest that McDowell is outside of the approximately 3,000-acre area where crews have been searching. Leeper said over the weekend that McDowell is believed to still be in the area after two items of interest were found: a flashlight and a hat.

“Once we check this perimeter as much as we can, we’ll have to reassess and see what we do next,” Leeper said.

Police, deputies and agents are looking for any evidence of McDowell, including possible campsites. After warning residents for two days to say inside and be on alert for any strangers on their property, deputies went door-to-door over the weekend making contact with people in the area. That continued on Monday.

“There has been a couple homes that nobody has been there. We’ll continue to check them and hopefully get ahold of them eventually. Everybody in the area has been very cooperative, very supportive, we just want to make sure they’re all safe and if they need us, call us,” Leeper said.

Ellen Monds, who has lived in Callahan since 1971, saw officers and deputies wearing tactical gear and searching homes. She said it seems surreal.

“It’s like a movie. It’s something you see in the movies or you hear in a bigger city like Dallas or New York or something like that. Not Callahan,” Monds said.

Monds hopes McDowell is caught soon.

“Definitely ready for it to be over but I just know with his training and all I don’t think he is going to give in that easily and there’s water around here we just don’t know where he’s been,” she said.

Investigators are sparing nothing in order to find McDowell. K9s, The Nassau County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team, ATV units, drones and helicopters are being used in the manhunt.

Callahan Elementary, Callahan Intermediate, Callahan Middle and West Nassau High School and other nearby schools were open Monday, but on a modified lockdown, meaning students did not change classes. Unlike Friday, bus pickups and drop off operated as scheduled since all roads in the area are open. Superintendent Kathy Burns said absences will be excused if a parent wants to keep their child home.

“I want to thank you for your patience and cooperation as we work to ensure our students are safe. I also want to thank the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office for their dedication and diligence during this difficult time in our community,” Burns said.

On Mickler Street, around the corner from Callahan Elementary, several police units from all over the region, including Georgia, were on patrol.

Between the extra efforts from law enforcement and the school district made, a mother with a child at Callahan Elementary felt school is the best place to be.

“I feel like there’s no safer place for my child than school,” Katie Martin said.

Records show McDowell had served in the U.S. Marines. A former colleague described McDowell as a “survivalist” capable of surviving on his own in the woods, a trained shooter and a dangerous person.

Police organizations including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Florida Sheriff’s Association are contributing to a reward, now up to $54,000 for information leading to McDowell’s arrest.

If you have any information about McDowell’s whereabouts, call 911 or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-8477 or dial **TIPS (star star 8477) on your cellphone. You will remain anonymous and could be eligible for a cash reward, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Leeper said he hopes McDowell turns himself in.

“Hopefully there’s somebody out there that knows him, if they’ll contact him, let us know. Please turn him in,” Leeper said. “I hope he turns himself in. Nothing’s worth this. Just pleading that he’ll either give himself up, somebody knows where he’s at, let us know so we can get him into custody and have closure for Deputy Moyers’ family.”

Moyers died of his injuries Sunday at UF Health Jacksonville. Leeper said doctors did their best but “there was just nothing they could do for Josh.”


About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013 and reports every weekday for The Morning Show.

This native of the Big Apple joined the News4Jax team in July 2021.