People seen fleeing their homes before the Hillsborough MPs murder-suicide there

Editor’s Note: This story includes a discussion of suicide. If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.orgor call the Tampa Bay Crisis Center at 2-1-1 or its First Responder Hotline at 866-435-4376.

ST. AUGUSTINA — Authorities were seen evacuating people, a neighbor said, through the second-floor windows of a beach vacation rental where a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Detective killed another deputy and then himself.

Detective Daniel Leyden, 31, fatally shot and killed a deputy with whom he was romantically involved before turning the gun on himself, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. Saturday night’s shooting occurred in the bedroom of a vacation home in the Butler Beach area on Anastasia Island near St. Augustine.

The pair were heard arguing in a bedroom by other deputies vacationing with them just before gunshots rang out, the sheriff’s office said. The bureau referred questions to investigators at the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, where the shooting took place.

The office did not respond to questions about the shooting, saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are with those in Hillsborough County affected by this unimaginable tragedy. At the same time, this incident is still under active and ongoing investigation.

A man who lives next door said dozens of deputies invaded the rental, 5318 State Road A1A, and ordered his family to stay inside their home. An hour later, the family heard the sound of gunfire, said neighbor William Wallace, 70.

During that time, they saw people being evacuated from the house using ladders and heard authorities over a loudspeaker ordering a man out with his hands on his head, Wallace said.

“It was all shocking,” he said. “But to hear that those involved were part of the force, I couldn’t believe it.”

After the shots were fired, Wallace repeatedly called the St. Johns Sheriff’s Office to get a go-ahead. He was told he could be back to normal around 1:30 a.m., he said.

When deputies first arrived, they had told Wallace to turn off all lights and stay away from windows because of an active scene nearby. His family agreed, but peeked out the windows from time to time, he said. Her 19-year-old son locked himself in his room.

The bodies were removed from the house on Sunday morning, Wallace said.

The shooting scene is a popular vacation rental home, advertised on sites including Booking.com and Airbnb, and is almost always occupied, Wallace said. Called Sandpiper Beach House, the two-story rental sleeps eight people and has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, according to the websites.

It is located about two blocks west of the Atlantic Ocean on the A1A beach highway.

The Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office said the deputy Leyden shot and killed was assigned to Sheriff’s District 3, based at 7202 Gunn Highway in Citrus Park. The MP’s name has not been released.

The deputies staying at the vacation home were off duty and did not violate any agency policies prior to the shooting, the sheriff’s office said. No internal investigation is planned.

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Leyden had been a detective since June 2021 with the Sheriff’s Gunshot Response Investigative Team — four detectives, four deputies and a supervising sergeant who investigate non-fatal shootings in Hillsborough County. The team was created in response to an increase in shootings.

Before that, Leyden apparently worked as a patrolman. Traffic citations issued by a deputy of the same name are on file from 2017 to August 2020 with the Clerk’s Office of Hillsborough Circuit Court.

Kenny Schaaf, a deputy in the sheriff’s office for nearly 20 years, worked in Leiden. Schaaf changed his Facebook profile picture on Sunday to a badge wrapped in black mourning band, as did dozens of other current and former Sheriff’s Office employees.

“Dan was a friend and I’m sad for everyone involved,” Schaaf told the Tampa Bay Weather in a Facebook post on Monday.

The shooting follows the death last month of Hillsborough MP Christopher Former, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

How to get help

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The Florida Coalition of Domestic Violence can be reached at 800-500-1119. There are local agencies in the Tampa Bay area to contact for assistance.

In Hillsborough County, you can call or text The Spring of Tampa Bay’s 24-hour crisis line at 813-247-7233 or visit online at thespring.org.

In Pinellas County, you can call the 24-hour Community Action Stops Abuse Helpline at 727-895-4912, text casa-stpete.org/chat or visit casapinellas.org.

In Pasco County, you can contact Sunrise of Pasco County on its 24-hour hotline at 1-888-668-7273 or 352-521-3120, or go online at www.sunrisepasco.org.

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