Four young children were discovered dead at a west Orlando apartment complex late Monday, nearly 24 hours after a standoff that began when an Orlando police officer was shot responding to a domestic violence call.
The gunman was also found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in a closet when SWAT officers entered the apartment at about 9 p.m., Orlando Police Chief John Mina said at a news conference just before midnight.
“A short time ago we made entry into the apartment and found that all four children have been killed by the suspect by apparent gunshot wounds,” Mina said.
“Our hearts go out to the families involved.”
The children were ages 1, 6, 10 and 11. “We have no idea when those children lost their lives,” Mina said.
Police earlier Monday had identified the suspected gunman as 35-year-old Gary Wayne Lindsey Jr., a felon who was on probation for arson and other charges.
The standoff began after officers responded about 11:45 p.m. Sunday to a woman who reported being battered by Lindsey at the Westbrook Apartments, police said. The woman had fled the second-story apartment to a nearby restaurant on Kirkman Road to call police. Officers tried to arrest Lindsey at the apartment when a shootout began.
Orlando Police officer Kevin Valencia was shot and suffered a “significant” injury, Mina said. Valencia is recovering after surgery at Orlando Regional Medical Center and was expected to live. He was still in critical condition early Tuesday, Mina said. He asked for prayers for Valencia, who is in his 20s.
Two of the children found dead are believed to be Lindsey’s, while the others are believed to belong to the domestic violence victim.
Mina said his officers had been in “direct and indirect” contact with Lindsey throughout the day, with the last indirect contact between 8:30 and 9 p.m. The gunman’s phone had spotty service, and police tried to offer him one of their phones. That’s when they saw the body of one child and decided to try to rescue the other children.
A big boom was heard at the complex at about 9 p.m.
The standoff at the apartment complex at 4932 Eaglesmere Dr., off Kirkman Road near Universal Orlando, forced residents from their homes in the middle of the night as SWAT officers descended on the complex.
Judy Pepper, 44, said she lives at the apartment complex, in the unit just below the suspect’s apartment. She had fallen asleep on her couch after watching the Yankees-Mets game. She said she was startled awake when she heard four loud gunshots: “It just went, ‘Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop,’’ Pepper said.
She then heard someone screaming and then a loud commotion near the stairwell.
Pepper said she looked out her window and saw three people carrying a police officer onto the grass. Other officers arrived and started working on the injured officer, Pepper said.
They cut open his shirt and appeared to put bandages on his neck, Pepper said. Officers put him in a patrol car and sped away, she said.
“Hell, yes, I was absolutely terrified,’’ Pepper said. “It just startled me awake, and I had no idea what was going on.’’
Pepper and other residents were told to vacate the complex, and they were moved to a nearby McDonald’s, then to a Holiday Inn.
Another resident, 58-year-old Steven Martinez was in the bathroom, preparing to go to bed, when he said he heard shots being fired.
“I got scared, and I called 911,’’ Martinez said.
When police arrived, they told everyone in that apartment building to leave, Martinez said. He said SWAT personnel were in the parking lot.
Another resident, Jesus Perez, and his 16-year-old son, Santiago, were sleeping when they heard a loud knock at their door after midnight.
“It startled me,’’ Santiago said. “My father opened up the door. There were about 20 police officers in the hallway. They told us to put some clothes on and get out. They told us to move quickly.’’
Hostage negotiators had spent the day trying to coax Lindsey from the apartment.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said at the news conference that about 60 deputies were involved in the effort to rescue the children.
Records show Lindsey was on probation stemming from a 2008 arrest in Volusia County, in which he was accused of trying to burn down a house in Orange City during an domestic argument. He was accused of threatening a woman with a knife as she held her 7-month-old son in Orange County in 2012, but prosecutors opted not to file charges in that case.