PANAMA CITY, Fla. – A man suspected of trading wild bursts of gunfire with officers during a long standoff in the Florida Panhandle was found dead Tuesday in a gasoline-soaked apartment after an armoured vehicle approached, authorities said.
“We were just blessed that we didn’t lose multiple officers and citizens today,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said at a news conference in Panama City, a small Gulf Coast city near the state’s famous sugar-sand beaches. He said a robot had to be deployed to check the apartment before officers could enter, finding the man dead.
No law enforcement agents were shot or wounded but one person leaving her apartment was injured and in stable condition, he said.
He described the dangerous situation that unfolded Tuesday in the tourist community as a “nightmare scenario for us,” with authorities estimating 100 rounds fired during the altercation. Ford said sporadic bursts of heavy gunfire had pinned several officers down at times as the suspected assailant fired from an elevated position with a rifle. Several law enforcement agents had surrounded the apartment building.
The sheriff wouldn’t say whether the suspect, 49-year-old Kevin Robert Holroyd, killed himself during the barrage of bullets or if he was struck by an officer’s bullet, but he said officers did hear a final, muffled shot from inside the apartment before the scene went silent.
He also said Holroyd doused the apartment in gasoline, saying they believe Holroyd intended to start a fire. Inside the home, authorities also uncovered hundreds of rounds of ammunition, several high powered rifles and flares.
Broadcasters showed televised footage of armed officers kneeling behind police cars and other positions around the building as gunfire continued sporadically and sirens blared.
“These units were taking numerous rounds of fire from the subject,” the sheriff said.
Witnesses heard rounds of gunfire between noon and 12:30 p.m. The gunfire peppering officers was so heavy that it shattered the windows of patrol cars along with computers inside the vehicles.
During the day Tuesday, authorities elsewhere on the Panhandle said they discovered a suspicious death in Santa Rosa Beach, a community in neighbouring Walton County about 40 miles (65 kilometres) northwest along the Florida coast. There, they said, 30-year-old Clinton Street was shot to death — and authorities said they had connected that slaying with the Panama City standoff.
Ford said police officers eventually used an armoured vehicle to get to the apartment. Around 2:30 p.m., he said, officers ignited a flash grenade and drove the armoured vehicle to break into Holroyd’s apartment, and used a robot to search the residence.
Nearby businesses and schools had to be evacuated and several police agencies responded to the scene.
Kim Allagood, owner of a nearby pizza restaurant, said “tons and tons” of police descended on the area and she locked down her restaurant for close to two hours amid sporadic shooting.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott talked to Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford about the situation in Panama City. John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said the main point of the call was to offer state law enforcement assistance.