Three suspects have been arrested in connection with the “massacre” of three best friends who were shot to death on a fishing trip Friday in a remote Florida community.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced the arrests of Tony “TJ” Wiggins, 26; William “Robert” Wiggins, 21; and Mary Whittemore, 27, in a press conference Wednesday morning.
Authorities believe TJ Wiggins — a man who has had 230 felony criminal charges in his past — was the gunman who shot Damion Tillman, Keven Springfield, and Brandon Rollins to death while accusing them of stealing a truck engine.
“TJ is someone who as a criminal should shock your conscience. It does mine,” Judd said Wednesday, adding TJ Wiggins had multiple prior convictions. “He’s a thug. He’s a criminal. He’s pure evil in the flesh. He’s wild and he’s out of control.”
The 26-year-old is now facing three counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of Tillman, 23; Springfield, 30; and Rollins, 27.
Robert Wiggins, TJ’s brother, is facing charges of tampering with evidence and accessory after the fact of a capital felony, according to a release from the sheriff’s office.
Whittemore, who is TJ’s girlfriend, has been charged with accessory after the fact of a capital felony.
Tillman, Springfield, and Rollins were killed Friday after the best friends had agreed to go night fishing at a remote lake in the community of Frostproof, Florida.
But the night quickly took a tragic turn when investigators say the Wiggins brothers and Whittemore showed up at the lake. TJ Wiggins confronted the group before repeatedly firing into their trucks, officials claimed.
Investigators were able to link the suspects to the murders after finding a Dollar General bag in Tillman’s red pickup truck. When they went to the store, they found surveillance footage showing Tillman checking out from the store at 9:56 p.m. Friday night.
TJ can be seen behind Tillman in line at the store and checks out himself just 15 seconds later.
The store’s clerk was also able to tell investigators that while Tillman was in the store, he had mentioned that he was going fishing and that he planned to meet up with Springfield.
Investigators say that when TJ learned that Springfield was going to be at the outing, he instructed his brother Robert — who was driving the truck they were in — to go to the lake.
They allegedly pulled up behind Springfield’s white pickup truck along the desolate road. Rollins, who had been riding with Springfield, got out of the truck and shined a light toward the vehicle to see who was behind the truck.
According to the sheriff, TJ got out of his truck and pushed Rollins against the vehicle, demanding to know where Springfield was. When he saw him in the driver’s side of the truck, authorities alleged that TJ pointed a gun at Springfield and began to demand to know what happened to his truck.
“Where’s my truck? I hear you stole the engine out of my truck?” Judd said as an irate TJ began to scream.
Springfield said he didn’t know what TJ was talking about, and then TJ began repeatedly firing at the victims, striking all three men, according to Judd.
“Robert told detectives he watched as TJ shot all three victims,” authorities said in the press release. “TJ then asked Robert to help him put Damion into the back of one of the trucks.”
Judd believes that TJ had shot into the truck carrying Springfield and Rollins somewhere between “nine to ten times," he said.
Investigators are still trying to determine more information about the alleged vehicle dispute that had prompted the shootings but said they believed it had happened some time ago. There is no indication drugs or any other motive played a role in the slayings.
Just 10 minutes after Tillman had been spotted at the Dollar General, Rollins placed a frantic call to his father at 10:06 p.m. — saying only the word “help.”
His father quickly rushed to the scene and held his son as he lay dying. The pair were able to speak briefly, but authorities have not released any details about what Rollins said to his father.
In his rush to get to the scene, Rollins’ father forgot his cell phone. Rollin’s own cell phone had fallen down inside the truck and wasn’t visible, Judd said.
The father then rushed to a nearby convenience store to call 911, but by the time emergency responders arrived at the scene all three men had died.
“We’ve tried to comfort the dad. The wounds were so severe that quite literally if an emergency room had been across the street, they couldn’t have saved his life,” Judd said.
After the alleged rampage, Judd claimed TJ, Robert, and Whittemore went on a run to McDonald’s — ordering 10 double cheeseburgers and two McChicken sandwiches before going home to enjoy their meal.
The next day, authorities said Robert took the truck to a car wash in Lake Wales to wash off the clay from the remote road.
Investigators later discovered the surveillance footage from Dollar General and also received several tips suggesting that TJ may be involved in the slaying because of his violent past. They executed a search warrant Monday at a “family compound” of camper trailers where the Wiggins family had been staying off the grid without water or electricity.
Investigators found two SKS rifles, two Mossberg shotguns, and ammunition for both weapons in a gun safe that belonged to TJ. As a convicted felon, TJ was not allowed to possess firearms and was arrested.
Detectives also found ammunition that they were able to compare to shell casings at the scene. After sending the evidence to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) authorities confirmed that the ammunition found in the trailer matched the ammunition found at the crime scene.
Whittemore admitted to buying the ammunition for her boyfriend on July 9 — a purchase that was also confirmed by surveillance footage, authorities said.
She also allegedly admitted to being with the brothers the night of the murders but did not make any additional statements and has now retained a lawyer, Judd said.
Investigators said all three suspects had “inconsistent and contradicting” stories during their interviews with law enforcement authorities.
TJ’s criminal past includes previous arrests for assault and battery, armed burglary, and weapons charges.
“This guy is just mean, he’s just violent,” Judd said. “He’s currently out on bond for breaking a guy’s arm with a crow bar during a fight.”
The investigation into the triple homicide remains ongoing and Judd said it is possible additional charges could be filed as the case progresses.
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