Man stole lights from triple homicide victim’s grave because ‘they were pretty,’ deputies say

Victim’s parents set up surveillance camera at gravesite

Kevin Wheeler (Polk County Sheriff's Office)

POLK COUNTY, Fla. – Polk County deputies say a man stole solar lights from the grave of a man who was killed while on a fishing trip with two of his best friends in Frostproof because he thought the lights were “pretty.”

Records show Damion Tillman, 23, was buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Fort Meade after he and two other men were beaten and shot to death in July 2020. Three arrests have since been made in connection with the triple homicide.

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On Jan. 13, Tillman’s parents reported that solar lights were stolen from their son’s gravesite. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the couple wanted to know who was responsible.

“He was laid to rest in a grave in Fort Meade, there were solar lights placed in his grave by his family and a worthless individual stole those lights. Well Mr. and Mrs. Tillman were outraged, as well as was everyone else that knew of this, but they went a step further. They installed a game camera that downloaded text and put more solar lights up,” Judd said.

Deputies said at about 11:15 a.m. on Monday, the couple saw someone on the camera removing lights from their son’s grave once again, so they immediately called authorities and provided a description of the suspect and his red truck.

“Guess what? We have caught us a thieving animal on the game camera, they notify the sheriff’s office, we immediately responded and arrested Kevin Wheeler with more stolen lights from Damien Tillman’s grave,” Judd said.

Wheeler, 45, was located during a traffic stop as deputies were responding to the cemetery, records show.

Wheeler admitted that “he had an interest with gravesite lights and was removing them because he thought they were pretty,” according to the affidavit.

“He said, ‘Hey, I just like to steal the lights, they were kind of neat. I thought they were cool so I stole them off of a dead young man’s grave, who was viciously murdered,’” Judd said.

The sheriff said the victim’s parents did the right thing by setting up the camera.

“I applaud the Tillman’s for putting up a game camera and catching a real animal. He’s locked up in the county jail for theft. So, there’s not enough negative things to say about him. He doesn’t even deserve a ‘What are you thinking?’ because he obviously doesn’t have anything to think with,” Judd said.

Wheeler is facing charges of removing a monument and petit theft. His criminal history includes grand theft and vehicle theft charges, as well as receiving a special court martial by the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service for making a bomb threat, records show.

Judd hopes Wheeler is found guilty.

“He has no conscious, to go steal from anybody’s grave, a place that is supposed to be very reverent is a cemetery where we honor those that have passed for whatever reason. And then, then this thing here steals from the victim of a homicide. His grave site,” Judd said.

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About the Author:

Adrienne joined News 6's digital team in October 2016 to cover breaking news, crime and community interest stories. She graduated from the University of Central Florida and began her journalism career at the Orlando Sentinel.