Kissimmee police chief reflects on night, days following loss of fallen officers

Officer Matthew Baxter, Sgt. Richard "Sam" Howard were killed in August

By Justin Warmoth - Anchor

KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O'Dell sat down with News 6 morning anchor Justin Warmoth and described the night of Aug. 18, when two of his officers were shot, as one of panic, disbelief, and complete heartache.

"I was actually out to dinner with my family and I got a call from Deputy Chief Lewis," O'Dell told Warmoth.

Officer Matthew Baxter, 27, responded to Palmway and Cypress Streets in Kissimmee at 9:28 p.m. that night, then requested backup from a supervisor moments later. Sgt. Richard "Sam" Howard, 36, arrived to assist at 9:48 p.m. Minutes later, at 9:52 p.m., the dispatch center was advised of shots fired.

"I didn't know the full condition of the officers... It was very serious and they were critical," O'Dell said. "It was the longest drive back into work I've ever experienced because I just couldn't get here fast enough. Being here doesn't necessarily change anything, I just needed to be around our folks."

Baxter, a three-year veteran, was the first Kissimmee police officer to be killed in the line of duty in over 25 years. The father of four was pronounced dead at Osceola Regional Medical Center that night.

Howard, a 10-year veteran, and father of one, died the following day.

Matthew Baxter and Sam Howard.

O'Dell describing the men as "the epitome of what you ask for in law enforcement officers."

O'Dell said he prayed for strength in the days following his as he led his agency, and helped the fallen officers' families and the community.

[Pictures: 2 Kissimmee officers shot, killed in line of duty]

"Here, I worked my best to keep a certain look and not show as much emotion, and I got home and I wasn't allowed to do that. She (my wife) forced me to talk and to kind of go through what I was feeling. I really couldn't have done it without my family," O'Dell said.

Six days after the shooting, Baxter and Howard were honored as members of the law enforcement community, family and friends paid their respects to both at First Baptist Church of Orlando.

O'Dell was the first person to speak at their joint, funeral describing the men as passionate and driven to make an impact in their community.

"Prior to the shooting, did you ever think about how you would react if you were in that situation as the chief of police?" Warmoth asked O'Dell.

"Probably not to the extent that I should've. You know, you think about it and maybe I was naive to say 'not in our community, it's not going to happen' but even if we train for it and we talk about and we preach safety, I just don't know if I ever expected it here," O'Dell said.

"This situation, this event, is not necessarily a true reflection of the north Kissimmee area. If we went back 10 to 15 years, I think there was more violence associated with the area. And in reality, over the course of this year, part 1 crimes, the more serious crimes, are actually down over 40 percent in that area."

[Pictures: Memorial grows outside Kissimmee Police Department]

However, O'Dell said he still relives that moment when Lewis called him almost three months ago.
"I still go through it when I get a phone call from the deputy chief or one of the captains, especially after hours. Unfortunately, it takes me back to that night," O'Dell said.

The agency is handling building the case against the man accused of killing Baxter and Howard, Everett Miller.

Miller is charged with first-degree murder, carrying a concealed weapon and resisting arrest without violence.

While the chief said he is confident in the case this agency has compiled, the process to get to trial will be long.

"I would venture to guess it would be a year to two years probably before this goes to trial and that'll be another hurdle for the agency, the families, and the community because certainly we will have to relive this again and I'm not sure what that'll bring. But we'll be ready," O'Dell said.

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