Jackson Winkeler, the public safety officer who was murdered in a shooting at the Florence Regional Airport in South Carolina, was also a local firefighter. “To know him, was to love him. A beautiful soul with the biggest heart,” his sister wrote in a moving tribute on Facebook.
Many tributes posted to social media described Winkeler’s devotion to public service. His full name was Jackson Ryan Winkeler. He was the first police officer killed in the line of duty in the United States in 2020. Winkeler was a Florence Regional Airport officer.
“Why did you have to be the first LODD of 2020? Why did it have to be you at all?” wrote Christy Wilkins Smith, who knew Winkeler, in a lengthy tribute on Facebook.
“Why did it have to be anyone? The life you had ahead of you was bright and full. These are questions among many other questions that we will never know the answer to. God has a plan for all of our lives and we may never understand why these things happen but we have to trust that God knows what he is doing.”
According to ABC News, Winkeler, 26, was gunned down in the early morning hours of January 5, 2020 as he attempted a traffic stop at the Florence Regional Airport in South Carolina. The airport is located about 80 miles from Columbia. The suspect, James Edward Bell, 37, fled the scene but was captured a short time later. The motive is not yet clear.
Here’s what you need to know:
Officer Winkeler Was Also a Firefighter at the Latta Fire Department, the Town Where He Went to High School
On Facebook, Officer Winkeler said that he was a firefighter at Latta Fire Department, a Public Safety Officer at Florence Regional Airport, and lived in Dillon, South Carolina. He indicated that he had started the Latta Fire Department position in September 2019, and wrote back to a well wisher in the comment thread, saying, “thanks man still volunteer there in Florence full time but it’s a good crowd of people.”
He went to Latta High School, lived in Floydale, South Carolina, and was single, according to his Facebook page. On December 20, 2019, he updated his profile picture with a photo showing him in uniform in his squad car. In 2018, he made posts on Facebook indicating he was connected to the Floydale Fire Department. “Floydale Fire Department Turkey Shoot will go on we will be inside and have tents set up, we have food, drinks and hot chocolate,” he wrote.
A picture with Winkeler superimposed over the image of an American flag was his profile picture in August 2019. Other posts show he had an interest in fishing and boating. In 2019, he shared a fundraiser, and wrote, “If anybody wants to buy a ticket or some tickets let me know it’s going to a good cause, Titus would help anybody if they asked and now it’s time to help him. I normally don’t do this kind of stuff selling tickets but this man has shown me alot and been a great supervisor to me at SCDOT in Dillon and now is in need of a kidney transplant.” Several posts show Winkeler with a small child wearing a police vest and sitting on a fire vehicle.
Winkeler’s Sister Wrote That He Would ‘Give the Shirt Off His Back’ & Loved God, Family, Community
Winkeler’s sister Adrienne Cook posted a moving tribute to Winkeler on her Facebook page. “To know him, was to love him. A beautiful soul with the biggest heart. Someone who would give the shirt off of his back to help anyone in need. Someone who loved God, his family and his community,” she wrote.
“I am numb and at a loss for words. My brother will never get to meet his new nephew, because someone decided to end his life. Jackson loved his job. He loved helping people and he took pride in what he did. Jackson loved my kids and my kids LOVED him right back. My kids will never get to see their uncle again, because of a senseless, heinous act. The person who did this took the last son my parents had. Took the last brother I had. Took my kids uncle. Took a friend to many. Took a young man who had such a bright future ahead. An innocent man, just doing his job.”
She added: “My parents have already endured losing one son in 2001 and now they have to go through this all over again. Our family is completely heartbroken and I am so full of anger. With that being said, I have faith in God that justice will be served and that God’s will, will be done. Please keep our family in your prayers and pray that justice will be served.”
A friend responded, “I am so sorry for you and your family. Jackson was a super nice young man, and such a loving son, brother and uncle.”
The Florence County Sheriff’s Department wrote on Facebook, “This morning our community has been again shocked by an act of violence directed at one of our local Law Enforcement officers. Soon after being notified of a Florence Regional Airport Police Officer being killed our SRT team was able to mobilize, apprehending the suspect a short time later. The Florence County Sheriff’s Office is here and stands ready to respond again if called to assist all local agencies if the need arises. On behalf of Sheriff Barnes and Chief Deputy Kirby we ask that the community please keep Jackson Winkeler’s family, friends, and coworkers in their prayers as they process what has occurred. They have our deepest sympathy and we will be assisting them in any way possible.”
Winkeler’s Facebook Page is Filled With Recent Memorial Tributes to Other Fallen Police Officers & Firefighters
In December, Officer Winkeler had shared several memorial posts for fallen public safety officials. One was for Officer Mike Latu, who had worked for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and was killed in a crash responding to a call. The other was for J.W. Bailey, a store owner who was murdered in a robbery and who had served as a South Carolina firefighter for 52 years. He also shared a post with a red bar against black background, which is the fallen firefighters’ flag.
In November, he shared a tribute to a fallen firefighter. Jason Menard was a Worcester firefighter lieutenant in Massachusetts who died trying to help colleagues escape a house fire.
A woman wrote in the comment thread when he posted a photo of a police vehicle next to a plane, “the special needs class at Latta school took a field trip at Florence Air Port and Timmy and his class mates got to see all lots of stuff and meet the employees. Y’all are a Great group of people!” Winkeler responded, “thanks appreciate that so much, that’s our chief Robert Norton he is a good leader and great with public and kids.”
ABC News reports that 134 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty in 2019.
Winkeler Was Remembered as a Man Whose Heart ‘Was Made for Helping & Serving’ & Being a Police Officer Was the One Thing He ‘Really Wanted’
Christy Wilkins Smith wrote: “Today has been a tough pill to swallow to say the least. It is not the news I expected to wake up to. When a law enforcement officer passes it is always difficult but when it hits so close to home it’s even more difficult. I may not have known him as well as others but the short time I did know Jackson Winkeler he was a kind and caring person.”
She added: “He seemed to be loved by so many and will truly be missed. You always had a smile on your face and you made sure to stop and speak when passing through Latta. You have stressed for weeks about going to the academy and it finally paid off and you were so excited the day you got your ‘Golden Ticket.’ A week from today you would be embarking on a journey you have been waiting for for a long time. You had a heart that was made for helping and serving and that’s the one thing you wanted and were so proud you were going to be doing the one thing your really wanted. ”
She added, “All of your brothers and sisters in blue are heartbroken and in utter disbelief. We all wish this was a bad dream that someone could wake us from. There are no words to make this easier for your friends and family. There was no reason for this senseless act.”
Kenneth Greer Jr. wrote on Facebook, “Can’t believe the news I just heard. Rest in peace to a great friend of mine, Jackson Winkeler. This one really hurts. Not even 6 months ago when I rolled my car in Latta, you were one of the first responders on scene. We hugged each other, talked about our school days together and you told me that I was lucky to walk away from my crash and you were glad that I was okay. I can’t believe you’re gone. Rest in peace, brother. ???”