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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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In dark hours, pain 'came out of nowhere'
Sgt. Ronald Harrison grinned, helped - a normal night. Then came shots, and the news.
By the Times staff
Published August 19, 2007
Harrison was a 27-year veteran of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. His name was engraved in granite in front of the Sheriff's Operations Center the same day he was killed.
[Daniel Wallace | Times]
The family and close family friends of Sgt. Ronald Harrison, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Sergent who was killed on Wednesday, Aug. 16.
[Daniel Wallace | Times]
The news broke Wednesday morning. Ronald Harrison, a sergeant with the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, was dead. His killer was shot by snipers after a standoff.
But in the dark hours before the sun came up, phones rang, porch lights burned, word spread. The first people to find out tell the story:
SHERIFF'S MAJ. BILL DAVIS, HARRISON'S BOSS: Sgt. Harrison came in at 8 a.m. He had to teach a class and he had a field trip to the DUI checkpoint that night.
BECKY GAGE, VICTIMS' ADVOCATE: We got to the checkpoint about 9 p.m. We brought drinks, wings, pizza. I made a huge salad. We were all just standing around, waiting for the officers.
ELLEN SNELLING, TAMPA ALCOHOL COALITION: They got there a few minutes later. Sgt. Harrison seemed happier than usual. He told me, "You walk around with that Diet Pepsi but I never see you eating anything." I got a slice of pizza and I took a big bite and said, "Sgt. Harrison, look." He looked at me with this big grin.
KAREN HERNANDEZ, MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING: It was the first time I had taken my son. Ron leaned forward and looked right at Michael. He's 14. Ron said, "Hello, Michael. I'm Sgt. Harrison. I've heard a lot about you." If you had his attention, you had his full attention.
BECKY GAGE: About 11 p.m., they were getting ready to start pulling cars into the checkpoint.
KAREN HERNANDEZ: Ron asked if I would get him some coffee. He said, "Would you be a dear ..." He told me he wanted it whiter and sweeter than him.
BECKY GAGE: We were leaving. He walked toward my vehicle. He said, "Thank you so much for being here. We always appreciate it."
LINDA UNFRIED, MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING: I told him, "Be safe."
* * *
MAJ. BILL DAVIS: He left the checkpoint at 12:30 a.m. and went to a convenience store at Kings and Lumsden.
SHERIFF DAVID GEE: We think he went through a strip mall then turned on Lumsden Road. The light turned green and he went north on Kings. The witness heard gunfire and saw a muzzle flash.
LT. ANDY ROSS: We got the call that he was in a traffic crash. There's a million things that run through your head. You're hoping the person is okay. We were worried. Things move at a pretty fast pace.
MAJ. BILL DAVIS: I got called by the shift commander. I could sense the hurt. He said, "Major, we have a very, very bad situation that I need to tell you about. We learned that Sgt. Harrison had been shot." He said, "I believe he's dead." I got up, got dressed. I knew it was going to be a long night.
* * *
REGINALD DRUMMOND, HARRISON'S STEPSON: My mom woke me up. She heard it was a car accident. Employees at Tampa General said my father was there. They said he was okay, that he was speaking with the nurse, that we could talk to him in a minute. They returned 5 minutes later to tell us he was in Brandon.
BECKY GAGE: I wasn't sleeping well. I was in bed for a while, then I went out to the couch. My cell phone was on my dining room table.
LT. ANDY ROSS: The colonel told me. I asked him how Sgt. Harrison was doing. He told me he was dead.
* * *
DEPUTY LARRY MORRELL: I thought the first phone call was a dream. I didn't answer.
REGINALD DRUMMOND: We were all in the car when the phone call came in that he didn't make it. My sister was a little hysterical. I needed to breathe.
LT. ANDY ROSS: We were focused on the task at hand. We didn't pause to make any announcement. It made it difficult to focus.
BECKY GAGE: This came out of nowhere. We were just with him. How did this happen?
REGINALD DRUMMOND: When we got to the Brandon hospital, the attendant came out and said that my father was dead, that he hadn't made it. But it was going to be a while before we could see him, because it was a little messy.
BECKY GAGE: I decided I would try to reach people before they saw it on the news. It was still a standoff. We were surfing channels trying to see if there was any news.
DEPUTY LARRY MORRELL: The second call came from a buddy of mine about 2 o'clock. I saw the flashing light on the phone. I've been in law enforcement about 30 years. Late-night phone calls are not a good thing. I just got that feeling in my stomach.
* * *
NITIKA JENNINGS, HARRISON'S STEP-DAUGHTER: I was getting up to get prepared to go to work.
MAJ. BILL DAVIS: We pulled up in front of her house. All the lights were on. She opened the front door.
NITIKA JENNINGS: I was waiting for him to walk up.
MAJ. BILL DAVIS: I put on the uniform out of respect for Ron. I wanted to look professional. Because she saw me in uniform, she sort of collapsed in the doorway.
MY HARRISON, HARRISON'S EX-WIFE: Nitika called me once the officers arrived. They told us as much as they could. Everything was unfolding.
KAREN HERNANDEZ: A woman from the checkpoint called. She was crying. She said, "Karen." I said, "What?" She said, "I didn't want you to turn on the TV and see it in the morning." I screamed and fell to the floor.
ELLEN SNELLING: There was a message on my answering machine from Karen. She said, "Ellen, I've got to talk to you."
KAREN HERNANDEZ: My 17-year old son put his arm around me, and my 14-year-old just sat there for a minute. I got ahold of myself. I took a deep breath. My oldest son said, "Mom, I'm so sorry." My 14-year-old burst into tears. "It's not fair. I just met him. I didn't get a chance to know him."
MAJ. BILL DAVIS: We went to Lakeland. We went to his daughter's house. They were puzzled as to what was going on. I believe it was a situation of total shock. There's a sense of disbelief. I think people believe that what they heard was not what we said.
REGINALD DRUMMOND: My sister and I and my mom saw him first. My mom, we gave her a few minutes, she went up and paid her last respects. My sister walked up and kissed him goodbye. I stayed in the room for a few minutes and sat with him. I assured him I was going to live on with the things he had given me, all the values and morals, that we were going to stay together and be strong.
The quotes above were edited for brevity and clarity. Times staff writers Alexandra Zayas, Abbie Vansickle, Ben Montgomery and Kevin Graham contributed to this report.