LAKELAND, Fla. – Polk County Sheriff's detectives are asking for the public's help identifying suspects after three men were "viciously murdered" on their way to fish in a remote area late Friday night.
The three men, who had been friends for years, were fatally beaten and shot, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said at a media briefing Saturday. A manhunt is now underway for the killers and there is a $30,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case.
Describing the “quiet, quaint” community surrounded by groves, forest and cattle ranches, Judd said the area where the killings happened was “about as far out in the woods as you can get.”
“This is a horrific scene. I have been to a lot of murder scenes in my life and this ranks up with the worst of them,” Judd said. “They were viciously murdered.”
Who are the victims?
Judd identified the victims as Damion Tillman, 23, Keven Springfield, 30, and Brandon Rollins, 27. Police do not typically release victim's names, but Judd said the families of the victims gave the sheriff's office permission to do so.
According to the preliminary investigation, Judd said, it appeared that Tillman arrived first in his red pickup, and that while he was being killed, Rollins and Springfield arrived in a white pickup and were shot.
Just after 10 p.m. Friday, Rollins called his dad on his cellphone and asked for help. Judd said Rollins’ father knew his son was fishing with his two friends and drove to the site.
Upon arriving, the father found his son barely alive and the two friends dead.
“In Brandon’s father’s excitement to run to help his son, he forgot his cellphone at home. So now he is out in the middle, as you can see, of no place without any communication,” Judd said. The father drove back to the nearest convenience store to call 911 and said “my son needs help.”
A 17-year-old daughter of the convenience store’s owner jumped into the vehicle of Rollins’ father and the two drove back to the scene on Lake Streety Road, Judd said.
Polk County EMS, Polk Fire Rescue and Polk County Sheriff's Office were notified, but by the time they arrived, Rollins had died of his injuries. Judd said Rollins was able to say a few things to his dad before he died, which the sheriff’s office hasn't revealed.
Police ask for public's help identifying suspects
Judd said that the sheriff's office believes there may have been more than one killer and asked the public for help identifying the suspects. The sheriff said he does not know whether the killers knew the victims at this point in the investigation, but noted that the murders took place on a clay dirt road "way out in the middle of God's country."
"You just don't stumble upon somebody out here," Judd said. "It's not like there's a lot of people out here."
The department is offering a $30,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest. Judd originally raised the reward from $5,000 to $15,000. Then, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement stepped in with another $10,000. The Florida Sheriff’s Association added $5,000.
“We are seeking leads, we need help so that we can solve this crime sooner rather than later,” said Judd.
Contributing: Associated Press
Follow Kathy Leigh Berkowitz on Twitter: @kberkowitzthel1
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Manhunt for killers of 3 Florida friends on fishing trip: What we know