PLANT CITY, Fla. (FOX 13) - A veteran Hillsborough County deputy killed three family members, including his granddaughter, then broadcast a heart-wrenching radio message to his colleagues before ultimately killing himself, Sheriff Chad Chronister announced this morning.
With "an extremely heavy heart," the sheriff recounted the sequence of events that ultimately ended with the suicide outside Plant City High School.
According to Chronister, it was just after 6:30 a.m. when Deputy Terry Strawn spoke up on the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office main radio channel to say that he had "caused harm to his family," provided details about two crime scene locations, and then said he planned to commit suicide at the school.
As the communications supervisor tried to talk Strawn out of it, three other deputies caught up to him outside the school. They, too, tried to intervene, but failed.
"Unfortunately the deputy took his own life on scene in front of the three deputies," the sheriff said.
The scene of the suicide was just off school property, but a heavy law enforcement presence at the high school campus worried many parents. Chronister said he believes Strawn wound up at that location because it happened to be close to the other crime scenes.
Deputies have since identified the victims as Strawn's 54-year-old wife Theresa and the couple's granddaughter, 6-year-old Londyn, who lived with them. Strawn also killed his daughter, 32-year-old Courtney Strawn, at her home.
Sheriff Chronister said Deputy Strawn, 58, had been with HCSO since 1991 and had retired two years ago before being hired back this summer to serve as on-campus security at Valrico Elementary School, where Londyn was in first grade. He said Strawn had earned "glowing reviews" and did not have any indication of behavioral issues.
Strawn's final radio transmissions, though, did allude to health and financial issues.
"We're not exactly certain what that means," the sheriff noted. "That will be part of the investigation."
Crisis teams were on hand at Valrico Elementary on Wednesday and will be back Thursday, helping students and staff deal with the double tragedy.
"Londyn was a first grade student at the school. She loved to learn and was excited about reading and math. She had a kind spirit and always helped classmates," a schools spokesman offered. "The news came as a shock to everyone at the school and they are working through their grief."
"There's nothing but good things to say about him. It's not something you would think would ever happen," offered Valrico parent Julie-Anna Simmons.
"He was always super nice, always smiling," added Sara Robb, another parent.
This marks the second murder-suicide case involving a Hillsborough deputy in the last three months. In September, Deputy Kirk Keithley fatally shot his wife Samantha before killing himself.
Sheriff Chronister took the chance to remind citizens that such tragic measures can be avoided.
"We all struggle at one point or another in our lives. But there is help. Help is available," he added. "Call the Crisis Center at 211. It's free and it's totally anonymous....Yes, someone does care and, yes, there is help."
If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The crisis center provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, seven days a week to civilians and veterans. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text 741-741.
See here for the warning signs and risk factors of suicide. Call 1-800-273-TALK for free and confidential emotional support.