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Suspect In Fishing ‘Massacre’ Allegedly Accused Victim Of Stealing Car Engine Before Gunfire Began
Victim Brandon Rollins’ mother said the “death penalty is definitely our number one priority,” in the aftermath of the slayings.
The family of one of three men shot to death last week while on a night fishing outing with friends hopes the suspected triggerman in the slayings will face harsh judgement.
Brandon Rollins, 27; Keven Springfield, 30; and Damion Tillman, 23; were all shot to death Friday night. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has referred to the slayings as a “massacre;" the friends were killed just moments after they had met to go night fishing at a remote lake in Frostproof, according to a press conference held earlier this week.
The suspected gunman, Tony “TJ” Wiggins, was arrested earlier this week and now faces three counts of murder in the brutal slaying that was allegedly sparked by an accusation of theft.
TJ was ordered to be held without bond during his initial bond hearing Thursday afternoon, local station WFTS reported. His girlfriend Mary Whittemore, who is facing three counts of accessory to murder charges, is being held on a $45,000 bond.
TJ's brother William “Robert” Wiggins, who Judd alleged drove TJ to the lake and helped throw Tillman’s body in the back of his pickup truck, is also facing three accessory to murder charges and a charge of tampering with evidence. He’s being held on a $46,000 bond.
Rollins’ family watched the virtual hearing from outside the local jail. They said they hope to get justice for their son and his best friends.
“The death penalty is definitely our number one priority,” Rollins’ mother, Dottie Payton, told WFTS.
Authorities said just minutes before the fatal shootings, Tillman was seen in surveillance video checking out at the Dollar General store at 9:56 p.m.
TJ was seen standing in line behind Tillman and checked out just 15 seconds later.
The clerk at the store told investigators that while Tillman was in the store he 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 riding in — to go to the lake.
They 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 truck, demanding to know where Springfield was.
When he saw him in the driver’s side of the truck, authorities said TJ allegedly pointed a gun at Springfield and began to demand to know where his truck was.
“Where’s my truck? I hear you stole the engine out of my truck?” Judd said an irate TJ began to scream.
Springfield, who had worked as a mechanic, told TJ he didn’t know what he was talking about. Authorities say TJ then began to fire into the truck, hitting both Springfield and Rollins, and then firing at Tillman who had arrived in a separate pickup.
In the aftermath, Rollins was able to call his father and uttered the word “help.” Cyril Rollins raced to the fishing site and held his son in his arms as he lay dying.
Rollins was able to speak to his father before he died, but Judd has said investigators are not currently releasing what was discussed between the father and son.
Cyril Rollins told WTFS he continues to play those final moments over and over in his head.
“He could call anybody. 911, anything, but he didn’t cause he called me. He knew his daddy was gonna be here,” he said.
In his urgency to get to the scene, he forgot his cell phone and drove to a nearby convenience store to call 911. All three men had died by the time emergency personnel had arrived at the scene.
Those who knew the three men are now left grieving the horrible loss.
Keri Black, who is the mother of five of Springfield’s eight children and was a friend of Rollins, told The Tampa Bay Times that the killings have rocked the small, usually quiet, community.
“For something like this to happen here, I’m not going to lie to you—it made everyone start to question everything,” she said. “Everyone was looking at their friends and neighbors trying to figure out who could have done something so awful for no reason.”
Tillman's uncle Jack Tillman said he still has questions he wants to see answered.
“I’m going to be in that courtroom every day, staring them in the eyes,” he told the paper. “They’re going to have nightmares about me.”
Rollins’ girlfriend, Jessica Steenson, told WFTS that she often went along on the fishing trips.
“He was my best friend and I miss him so much. What I would do for just five more minutes with him on a boat trying to fight to catch a fish, about who was gonna catch the fish first,” she said. “Take your time with your family and love every single second with them, if it’s good or bad, love the fights, love the laughs, because in the blink of an eye it can all be gone.”
On Thursday, Judd announced in a post on social media that due to an outpouring of support for the families from those in the community and across the world, the Polk Sheriff’s Charities had raised enough money to pay for the funeral expenses of all three victims.
“We are no longer in need of any additional funds,” Judd said. “The donations will be split equally among all three families. Thank you for proving once again that evil does not win.”