PUNTA GORDA — Thousands gathered Saturday in Punta Gorda to mourn a deputy shot and killed while investigating a domestic disturbance in southwest Florida.
Sgt. Michael Wilson died Monday after being shot by a suspect in the chest, just above his bullet-proof vest.
At his funeral, Gov. Rick Scott and fellow deputies said Wilson died a hero and would not be forgotten.
"His sacrifice saved lives and today we honor him," Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell said.
Sgt. Chris Williams recalled how Wilson was on a traffic stop Monday when the call came in regarding a physical altercation. Williams said Wilson could have stayed at the traffic stop, but chose not to.
"That's not Mike," said Williams, who worked in the same unit as Wilson.
According to investigators, Jay Vanko immediately shot Wilson from the top of a stairwell at the Tuscana Apartments in Port Charlotte, and then turned the gun on himself. Deputies used a tactical robot and found the suspect dead inside an apartment. Investigators found two weapons at the scene.
Williams, 42, was a 20-year veteran of the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office, and patrolled the same community he grew up in. He was married with three children.
Colleagues recalled Wilson's jovial demeanor and creativity on the job. Once, as part of a street crimes unit patrolling the beach, he buried himself in sand so that only his eyes could be seen as a way of blending into the scenery and catching people committing drug crimes, former Sheriff Bill Cameron said.
"That was Mike," Cameron said. "That was our Mike."
Cameron also said that when he put together a street crimes unit, Wilson was an easy pick for supervisor.
"He taught his team a lot," Cameron said.
Wilson's casket was draped with a U.S. flag. Many became tearful as they approached the podium to remember their lost friend.
"We will never forget," Prummell said. "We love you brother."