Two police officers in Kissimmee, Florida were shot in what’s being described as an “ambush” attack on law enforcement.
Police Chief Jeff O’Dell delivered an emotional press conference late in the evening August 18 to deliver the tragic news: One of the officers died and the other is in “grave condition” at Osceola Regional Medical Center.
Officer Matthew Baxter was the officer who was killed in the attack while Sgt. Sam Howard remains at a hospital fighting for his life.
“These are beloved fathers and husbands and sons,” O’Dell said at the press conference. “We are doing everything we can to support the families.”
The Kissimmee Police Department has 104 total officers, and O’Dell took over the department one year ago.
“This is a tough time in law enforcement,” he said. “I would ask that you pray for the men and women of law enforcement.”
As Baxter’s body was being transported from the hospital, his colleagues joined each other in a procession.
Here’s what you need to know about Baxter:
1. Baxter & Howard Were Responding to an Unidentified Emergency Call When They Were Ambushed
According to O’Dell, Baxter and Howard were responding to an emergency call at around 9:30 p.m. in the area of Palmway and Cypress Streets. The details of the emergency call haven’t yet been disclosed.
Kissimmee police announced that Miller was taken to jail in Baxter’s handcuffs. Miller is a former Marine with a recent mental health commitment. He previously went by the name Malik Mohammad Ali and only recently changed it.
Witnesses described a chaotic scene that garnered a massive police presence to the Orlando Sentinel.
Alexis Nieves, 27, said she was driving when she noticed emergency crews performing CPR on a person immobile on the ground.
“I just started crying,” she told the newspaper. “I didn’t know what to think, it’s so sad. I was in the middle of it all and couldn’t believe what was happening. I called my friend in tears. I’ve never seen anything like that.”
“They were just flying,” 37-year-old Carlos Santiago said to the publication of seeing “dozens” of patrol cars speeding past him as he drove. “It was pretty obvious something bad had happened.”
The shooting specifically occurred in McLaren Circle, a location Santiago described to the Sentinel as being “not a great area,” adding “it’s pretty run down compared to the rest of the city and it’s known for having more crime.”
2. Baxter was a Married Father of 3
At a press conference, O’Dell said that Baxter was a three-year veteran of the police force, a husband and a father of three children. His wife is reportedly also a law enforcement officer.
A video of Baxter’s swearing-in ceremony shows him smiling to a loud applause as he became an official member of the police force. He walks around the room shaking hands with government officials who gave him a standing ovation on his accomplishment.
Tributes to Baxter flooded in from across the globe.
Facebook user Neida Beauvoir posted a tribute to Baxter, who she said is a family friend.
“My family knew him and we are heart broken. We are praying for the family and for all those grieving the death of our officers tonight, who serve to protect our community. May peace be with you all,” she said in a Facebook post.
3. Baxter was Active in the Florida Community
Posts to social media indicate that Baxter was an upstanding member of the community. There are a few photos of him with his colleagues at various events posted to the city of Kissimee’s Facebook page.
During the local YMCA’s “GET YOUR GAME ON” competition, Baxter teamed with colleagues and walked home with a trophy.
On June 29, Baxter was involved in the police department’s “Operation Chill” program, an opportunity for officers to get to know members of their community better.
The program asks officers to “ticket” youngsters with coupons for free Slurpee drinks from 7/11 convenience stores “when they observe them being safe, doing a good deed or participating in safety programs,” its description says. This year was the 22nd year the police department has taken part in the initiative.
“The Kissimmee Police Department has been involved with Operation Chill® since the program’s inception in 1995,” O’Dell said in a statement to the program’s website. “The coupons are a great icebreaker for the officers patrolling the community. It’s a way to encourage dialogue between the officer and the youngsters in a non-threatening, non-law enforcement situation.”
4. President Trump & Others Tweeted About the Incident
After news of the tragic incident occurred, President Donald Trump tweeted that his “thoughts and prayers” are with the police department in their time of grieving.
Florida Governor Rick Scott also tweeted his condolences to the families affected by the shooting.
Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez released a statement early in the morning August 19 also expressing his condolences to Baxter and Howard’s families and those affected by the shooting.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs expressed her sympathy for the two officers who were shot in the ambush.
5. There Were 3 Separate Incidents in the U.S. Where Police Officers Were Shot August 18
The shooting of law enforcement was one of a handful that happened around the nation August 18. In total, six police offers were shot in three separate incidents in Florida and Pennsylvania.
The two officers shot in Pennsylvania are currently in “stable” condition.
There was another police-involved shooting in Jacksonville earlier in the evening. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department tweeted out that two officers were shot, but didn’t provide further details on the matter.