Friday night was a tragic reminder of the danger our law enforcement officers face every time they put on their uniform and head in to work. All too often we take for granted the men and women who have sworn that they will serve and protect. We see them at local functions, and we see them driving throughout our community, but Friday night in Kissimmee, we saw that they are constantly in jeopardy as they protect the community 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Sgt. Sam Howard and Officer Matthew Baxter responded to Palmway and Cypress streets in Kissimmee at 9:27 p.m. Friday night and came into contact with three individuals, police said.
Minutes later, at 9:32 p.m., both men were shot, Kissimmee Chief Jeff O’Dell said. “It looked like they were surprised,” Chief O’Dell said, adding that the officers did not return fire.
One of the officers was shot in the head at close range, and were wearing their Kissimmee Police Department uniforms and body armor.
Both officers were taken to Osceola Regional Medical Center in Kissimmee where Baxter died and Howard was in “grave critical condition,” authorities reported. Chief O’Dell said Howard’s prognosis is not promising.
One man was taken into the custody after the shooting. O’Dell described the man as a “strong suspect.”
O’Dell said it is believed that there was only one shooter using an unknown firearm, but did not say if that “strong suspect” is believed to be the shooter. Another man was taken into custody after authorities found him at Roscoe’s Bar.
Chief Jeff O’Dell said Baxter was a three-year veteran and Howard is a 10-year veteran. Both men are husbands and fathers.
“The families are completely heartbroken and devastated. These were beloved fathers and husbands and sons and so we are doing everything in our power to support them and their families at this time,” O’Dell said.
Baxter’s body was taken early Saturday by a procession of law enforcement officers from across Central Florida to the Osceola County Medical Examiner’s Office for further investigation.
O’Dell said that his department was struggling with the loss of the fellow officer.
“Although we’re aware of what goes on, you know, in law enforcement across the nation, we haven’t experienced this in over 25 years,” O’Dell said.
Up until Friday night, it had been 34 years since a Kissimmee Police Department officer was killed in the line of duty.
O’Dell reported during a press conference Saturday morning that Osceola County deputies arrested the suspect Friday around 11:30 p.m. Everett Glenn Miller, 45. Miller has been charged with first-degree murder, O’Dell said.
The police chief also said that Baxter had responded to the area and may have became involved in a “scuffle” with three people. Police originally said that Baxter had arrived to check on four people. O’Dell also said that Baxter originally responded to the area and Howard came shortly after as back up.
Officer Howard remains in “grave critical condition” and Chief O’Dell said there was “not much hope” at this point that he will survive his injuries.
Please keep all those affected by this terrible tragedy in your thoughts in prayers, and may we never grow numb to how senseless and tragic this truly is.