TRENTON, Fla. (AP) — A man who investigators say killed two sheriff’s deputies in rural north Florida was a mystery figure in the small agricultural community rocked by the shooting.
John Hubert Highnote, 58, had bought a house on a quiet, tree-lined dirt road outside of the tiny town of Bell in 2010, but didn’t speak to neighbors and wasn’t familiar at the few restaurants or shops on Main Street. Authorities there said they’d never had any contact with him.
Records show he’d lived previously in St. Petersburg, where he’d had a number of run-ins with the law for minor crimes and misdemeanors, including one arrest for carrying a concealed weapon.
On Thursday, Highnote walked into a Chinese restaurant in the nearby town of Trenton, went up to Gilchrist County deputies Sgt. Noel Ramirez, 30, and deputy Taylor Lindsey, 25, and fired at them before they had a chance to react, authorities said. He then went into his car and killed himself.
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Jamie Mauldin, a waitress at Akins Bar-B-Q about a mile from Highnote’s house in Bell said she didn’t know Highnote but that Ramirez and Lindsey were regulars.
“Ramirez was the sweetest ever. He loved his family. Loved his job. Always had a smile,” she said, wearing a freshly made T-shirt that said “Gilchrist Strong.” The proceeds of the shirts will go to the deputies’ families.
A neighbor who has lived across the street from Highnote for five years said he never introduced himself, and she rarely saw him when she ran on their dirt road or was out with her kids. She only ever saw him when drove into his garage.
“I’d see him pull in, shut the garage and go in. No lights on or nothing,” said the neighbor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she did not want to be involved in the investigation. She characterized him as a recluse.
Investigators in Florida say they may never know why he fired the shots at Ace China restaurant, about 35 miles (60 kilometers) west of Gainesville.
“It’s inexplicable,” State Attorney Bill Cervone said. “People will want to know why, and we may never have an answer for them.”
Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz blamed the deaths on hatred toward law enforcement.
“What do you expect happens when you demonize law enforcement to the extent it’s been demonized? Every type of hate, every type of put-down you can think of,” Schultz said at a news conference.
“The only thing these men were guilty of is wanting to protect you and me. They just wanted to get something to eat, and they just wanted to do their job,” he said.
President Donald Trump called the slain deputies “HEROES” in a tweet sharing his condolences with their friends, families and colleagues.
Highnote lived alone in a small, brick house off a dirt road shaded under a canopy of trees. He bought the house in 2010, property records show. He’d had one traffic ticket in Gilchrist County over the past eight years, according to the county clerk of court.
Prior to moving to Bell, records show Highnote lived in St. Petersburg where he had more run-ins with law enforcement over previous decades.
He was arrested for felony carrying a concealed firearm in 1978, a charge later dropped after he successfully completed a pre-trial intervention, Pinellas County court records show.
Hightnote was also arrested for misdemeanor criminal mischief in 1994, for which he also did a pre-trial diversion program and the charges were dropped. The records had no further information about the mischief for which he was arrested. He was also cited for consuming alcohol in public in 1977, and had 11 traffic tickets for speeding and other infractions over the years.
Schultz said state law enforcement officials are investigating, and an investigator from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was at Highnote’s house Friday.