NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. — Hundreds of law enforcement officers from many different agencies are all searching for the man accused of shooting a Nassau County deputy during a traffic stop.
Patrick McDowell, 35, shot 29-year-old Deputy Joshua Moyers in the head and back at about 2:30 a.m. Friday morning in the Callahan area, according to Sheriff Bill Leeper. He then fled the scene in a vehicle that was determined to be stolen.
Moyers remains in critical condition at a Jacksonville hospital.
The shocking crime spawned a massive manhunt encompassing a wide area and involving many different agencies both inside and outside of Nassau County. In addition to officers, there are also helicopters, ATVs and K-9s all assisting in the search, all working together to an elusive and dangerous suspect.
At this point in the search, the key is getting personnel together to prevent the suspect from escaping, according to Charlie Wilkie, a former Jacksonville police officer and K-9 handler.
"You rally the troops, get everyone around, every available officer that you can, and you try to quadrant off the area that you're searching," Wilkie said.
In addition to being armed, another danger for those searching for McDowell is training as a Marine. McDowell served four years in active duty, including participating in the Iraq War. The training he learned in the Marine Corps makes him adept at being able to evade the hundreds of officers searching for him.
"He's been in combat so he's well trained in that. He's well-versed in how to survive," Wilkie said. "That's the downside for us is that he is capable of probably surviving out in that wooded area for a number of days."
During large manhunts, K-9 officers play an especially important role, but that also comes with danger. In fact, the Nassau County Sheriff's Office reported one K-9 officer was shot during the search for McDowell. The dog is expected to be OK.
He says during a search for a potentially dangerous suspect, communication is vitally important between the K-9 and its handler to ensure the safety of both.
"Usually what happens in that scenario is that you're working the dog on a long lead, usually, so you have control of them, but you're working them out 20 feet ahead of you," Wilkie explained. "At some point, when the dog starts working, what we call hot, meaning he's getting really close, sometimes you'll kick him off lead and so he can ahead of you."
Wilkie told First Coast News he is confident that authorities will soon track down and apprehend McDowell. He said if McDowell is hiding out in the woods, he will eventually need to leave, opening an opportunity to find McDowell.
"Sooner or later, there's going to come a time when he's going to need supplies," Wilkie said. "There's certain basic human necessities that's going to outweigh his need of staying out there in those woods."
Wilkie believes when the dog got ahead of his handler, McDowell shot it so the dog could not continue to pursue and ultimately lead authorities to him.
Even with the massive manhunt underway, Wilkie believes it is important not to lose sight of the tragedy that occurred Friday night.
"It's a terrible situation," he said. "You can obviously tell Sheriff [Bill] Leeper is distraught over what happened to one of his officers. That just shows how close this department is."
Wilkie said his heart and mind are focused on Deputy Moyers and praying for the best.
"We're all just in deep prayer; our hearts and prayers go to Deputy Moyers' family and to him, and we're hoping and praying that the Good Lord sees him through this and he makes a recovery," Wilkie said. "Just a big effort [of] everybody praying together that this turns better."