Editor’s note: This story includes discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org, or call the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay by dialing 2-1-1 or its first responders hotline at 866-435-4376.
ST. AUGUSTINE — Authorities were seen evacuating people, a neighbor said, through the second-story windows of a beach vacation rental where a Hillsborough County sheriff’s detective killed another deputy then himself.
Detective Daniel Leyden, 31, shot and killed a deputy with whom he had a romantic relationship before turning the gun on himself, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. The shooting Saturday night happened in the bedroom of a vacation home in the Butler Beach area of Anastasia Island near St. Augustine.
The two were heard arguing in a bedroom by other deputies on vacation with them just before gunshots rang out, the Sheriff’s Office said. The office referred questions to investigators with the Sheriff’s Office in St. Johns County, where the shootings occurred.
The office did not answer questions about the shootings, saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with those in Hillsborough County who are affected by this unimaginable tragedy. At this same time, this incident remains under an active and ongoing investigation.”
A man who lives next door said dozens of deputies swarmed the rental, 5318 State Road A1A, and ordered his family to stay inside their home. An hour later, the family heard the sound of gunfire, said the neighbor, William Wallace, 70.
Meantime, they saw people being evacuated from the home using ladders and heard authorities on a loudspeaker ordering a man to come outside with his hands over his head, Wallace said.
“The whole thing was shocking itself,” he said. “But to hear the people involved were on the force, I couldn’t believe that.”
After the gunshots, Wallace repeatedly called the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office to get an all-clear. He was told he could return to normal around 1:30 a.m., he said.
When deputies first arrived, they had told Wallace to turn off all lights and stay away from windows because of an active scene next door. His family obliged but peeked from the windows now and then, he said. His 19-year-old son locked himself in his room.
The bodies were removed from the home Sunday morning, Wallace said.
The shooting scene is a popular vacation rental home, advertised on sites including Booking.com and Airbnb, and is nearly always occupied, Wallace said. Called the Sandpiper Beach House, the two-story rental has room for eight people and has three bedrooms and three baths, according to the websites.
It is located about two blocks west of the Atlantic Ocean on beach highway A1A.
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The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office said the deputy whom Leyden shot and killed was assigned to sheriff’s District 3, based at 7202 Gunn Highway in Citrus Park. The deputy’s name was not released.
The deputies staying at the vacation home were off duty and did not violate any agency policies before the shootings, the Sheriff’s Office said. There is no internal investigation planned.
Leyden had been a detective since June 2021 with the sheriff’s Gunfire Response Investigations Team — four detectives, four deputies and a supervising sergeant who investigate nonfatal shootings in Hillsborough County. The team was created in response to a rise in shootings.
Before that, Leyden apparently worked as a patrol officer. Traffic citations issued by a deputy of the same name are recorded from 2017 through August 2020 with the Hillsborough Circuit Court Clerk’s Office.
Kenny Schaaf, a deputy with the Sheriff’s Office for nearly 20 years, used to work with Leyden. Schaaf changed his Facebook profile photo Sunday to a badge wrapped in a black mourning band, as have dozens of other current and former employees at the Sheriff’s Office.
“Dan was a friend and I am sad for everyone involved,” Schaaf told the Tampa Bay Times in a Facebook message Monday.
The shootings come on the heels of the death last month of Hillsborough deputy Christopher Former, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
How to get help
If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The Florida Coalition of Domestic Violence can be reached at 800-500-1119. There are local agencies in the Tampa Bay area to reach out to for help.
In Hillsborough County, you can call or text The Spring of Tampa Bay’s 24-hour crisis line at 813-247-7233 or visit online at thespring.org.
In Pasco County, you can contact Sunrise of Pasco County at its 24-hour hotline at 1-888-668-7273 or 352-521-3120, or go online at www.sunrisepasco.org.