Three men were beaten and shot on their way to go fishing Friday night, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
All three died, and now a search is underway for whoever is responsible.
“This is a horrific scene,” Polk Sheriff Grady Judd told the Lakeland Ledger on Saturday. “I have been to a lot of murder scenes in my life and this ranks up with the worst of them. They were viciously murdered.”
Damion Tillman, 23, Keven Springfield, 30, and Brandon Rollins, 27, planned to go fishing in Lake Streety in Frostproof, deputies said. The lake is off U.S. 98 and about as far out into the woods as someone can get, the sheriff said, surrounded by cow pasture and dirt roads.
Judd said Tillman arrived at the lake first and was attacked on Lake Streety Road. Then Springfield and Rollins arrived and were “shot up,” by unknown assailants. The sheriff said he believes there is more than one suspect.
Rollins, despite his injuries, used his cell to call his father at 10:06 p.m, saying “help.” His father knew where the men were fishing and rushed to the lake, deputies said.
When he arrived, Tillman and Springfield were dead. Rollins was able to briefly speak to his father, but the Sheriff’s Office said it would not disclose what was said.
But Rollins’ father had rushed out of the house without his cellphone. He hurried to a gas station, called 911 and drove back with the store owner’s daughter to the crime scene. By the time deputies and paramedics arrived, the son had also died.
All three men suffered upper-body trauma, the Sheriff’s Office said. Though Judd said he doesn’t know whether the men knew whoever killed them, but he said it is unlikely that someone just stumbled onto them at the rural lake.
Family members said the three men had been best friends for years.
Judd highlighted that the area was a “very safe, very quiet, very quaint” community and asked “what could be more wholesome” than buddies meeting up on a Friday night for night fishing, in a news conference that was streamed live on Facebook.
“We need the community’s help identifying who killed these three young white men,” Judd said.
Judd’s comment on the race of the victims immediately triggered reactions from those watching on Facebook. Some believe it weas a hate crime, though the Sheriff’s Office has not said that. Another commenter wrote: “Was it necessary to state white men? Or does it add more value? It’s sad and unfortunate despite the color of their damn skin.”
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office asks anyone with information about this case to call (863) 298-6200. Heartland Crime Stoppers is offering a $5,000 reward for information that leads to the arrests of those responsible via heartlandcrimestoppers.com or by calling 1-800-226-8477.
Information from the Lakeland Ledger was used in this report.