PLANT CITY, Fla. — A Florida sheriff’s deputy killed himself in front of several colleagues Wednesday morning after going on his police radio and reporting that he had killed three of his family members -- including a child.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister offered details of the still-evolving investigation at a Wednesday morning news conference.
"I'm here today, I'm saddened, but I'm also disheartened," Chronister said. "Disheartened that a deputy sheriff, a Hillsborough County deputy sheriff, would ever, ever cause harm to another individual."
Sheriff Chronister briefing the media this morning concerning a deputy involved murder-suicide. We are saddened beyond comprehension that this has occurred on our watch. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families as we try work to understand all the details in this case. pic.twitter.com/tA5REbp4IW— HCSO (@HCSOSheriff) December 19, 2018
Chronister said the call from the deputy, who was first hired in 1991, came over the Sheriff’s Office’s main channel at 6:42 a.m. The deputy’s name was withheld at the news conference because next-of-kin notifications were still being made.
Chronister confirmed that the deputy, who retired two years ago, had been rehired over the summer to work as a school resource officer at one of the county’s elementary schools.
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In his transmission, the deputy told dispatchers he "caused harm to his family" and gave the location of that crime scene, Chronister said. Once Sheriff's Office investigators obtained search warrants, they went in and found a woman and young girl dead at that residence.
The deputy said he also harmed another family member at a second location, for which he gave directions. A second woman was found dead there, the sheriff said.
Investigators were working to positively identify the dead, but they are believed to be members of the deputy’s immediate family.
Watch Chronister’s entire news conference below, courtesy of WFTS in Tampa.
After reporting the murders, the deputy told dispatchers he was going to kill himself at Plant City High School, which Chronister said was in close proximity to the crime scene the deputy had just left.
"A supervisor immediately got on air and did everything that they could to try to talk him down, calm him down, bring some calm to the situation," Chronister said.
Around that same time, three Hillsborough County deputies located their colleague on the east side of the school, off school property.
"(They) made every attempt possible to try to convince this deputy sheriff that there was a different way, there was a different solution, not to commit suicide," Chronister said. "Unfortunately, the deputy took his life on scene in front of the three deputies."
Little additional detail was being released Wednesday morning.
“Like I said, this is still extremely active and preliminary,” Chronister said. “We just got the search warrants approved, we have just made entry into both residences and are starting the lengthy process of putting the pieces of the puzzle together and processing the crime scenes.”
.@HCSOSheriff confirms a retired deputy/current school resource officer killed two women and a child at two locations before killing himself near Plant City High School. He alluded to health and financial troubles. pic.twitter.com/mItgznmr3a— Emerald Morrow (@EmeraldMorrow) December 19, 2018
Chronister told reporters that there had been no history of erratic behavior or behavioral problems in the deputy's past with the department. He had "glowing recommendations" and positive reviews throughout his career.
“Again, no indication whatsoever that would lead us to believe, that would lead a prudent and reasonable person to believe that this deputy would ever conduct himself in the manner that he did,” Chronister said.
The sheriff said the deputy was hired back along with several other retired deputies to work as SROs in the schools. The hirings were in response to a new Florida law passed in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that requires armed security or sheriff’s deputies in all schools.
The deputy had done such a good job that Chronister had just recently decided to hire him back full-time.
"He had just expressed how ecstatic he was, that Christmas came early, he was so happy that he was hired back as a full-time deputy sheriff," Chronister said.
WFTS in Tampa reported that no students were on the Plant City High School campus at the time of the deputy's suicide nearby. The campus was immediately put on lockdown, but it has since been lifted.
On the scene of a death investigation near Plant City High School. @FOX13News pic.twitter.com/wq2pFtdVsb— Dan Matics (@danmaticsFOX) December 19, 2018
As most people know, or have experienced, there is a major police presence on the Maki Rd. side of Plant City High School. ALL STUDENTS ARE SAFE - this is NOT a school incident.— PlantCityPoliceDept (@PlantCityPolice) December 19, 2018
If you can use roads other than Maki Rd. please do so. Maki is closed.
Students were being kept on the east side of the campus as the crime scene was being investigated. The news station reported that a robocall went out to parents Wednesday morning informing them of the situation and reassuring them that there was no threat to students.
Chronister said the deputy's suicide was the third that his investigators had responded to Wednesday morning. It was also the second time in the past three months that a Hillsborough County deputy killed himself after killing at least one family member.
Deputy Kirk Keithley, 39, shot and killed his wife, Samantha Keithley, on Sept. 24, according to the Sheriff's Office.
WFTS reported that Samantha Keithley sent text messages to a friend just hours before her death, detailing her husband's troubling behavior.
“Kirk has lost his mind, Kristen,” a text sent at 11:50 p.m. the night before the murder-suicide read. “He’s literally losing it. He’s been harassing me for the last six hours and I’ve asked him repeatedly to leave me alone because I’m sick.
"I just chucked my ring outside," Samantha Keithley wrote.
Her friend, Kristen Kellin, did not see the message in time to help her friend.
"I didn't open it until around 2 a.m. Then I texted her back this morning around 7. It was too late," Kellin told WFTS.
The couple’s four children were in the home when their parents died, the news station said. When the shooting took place, their son crawled under the garage door to get help, Kellin said.
A GoFundMe page set up to help the Keithley children has raised nearly $80,000.
Kirk Keithley had been with the Sheriff's Office for nine years, according to a news release. Prior to that, he spent six years as an officer with the St. Petersburg Police Department.
A Message to Our Sheriff's Office Family from Sheriff Chronister. pic.twitter.com/PuxrhsVRmv— HCSO (@HCSOSheriff) September 24, 2018
Chronister said Wednesday that his agency has been proactive since the Keithley murder-suicide by developing a suicide awareness and prevention program. The new program starts Jan. 1.
"I truly believe law enforcement's no different than modern-day society," Chronister said. "We have to change the culture. We have to make sure that everyone knows that it's OK to ask for help.
“It’s not a sign of weakness to say, ‘Hey, I’m having a difficult time. I’m having a hard time. I need some help.’”
Cox Media Group