PONCE DE LEON, Fla. (WMBB) — One man is behind bars on Monday after authorities said he shot and killed another man and injured a woman, who is believed to be the mother of his children, at a rest stop in Ponce de Leon on Sunday afternoon.
According to Holmes County Sheriff, John Tate, it all happened during a custody exchange of four young children.
“When you hear of a shooting at the rest area, you automatically jump to an active shooter situation,” Sheriff Tate said. “Basically what this is, is the halfway point for a mom and dad to make a child exchange.”
Tate said the call came in around 2:10 p.m. on Sunday that shots were fired at the Ponce De Leon rest stop off of I-10; multiple agencies responded, including Florida Highway Patrol.
“This rest area is a pretty popular and a busy rest area, so there were plenty of people here who were of course in fear and uncertain as to what was going on,” said FHP Public Affairs Officer Lt. Jason King.
He said when troopers and deputies arrived, one man was dead and another woman was injured.
Sheriff Tate said 49-year-old Latorish Gardner of Marianna got into a fight with 30-year-old Mariah Maps of Pensacola at the rest stop. Authorities said they were doing a custody exchange of four young children, ages ten, three, three, and one.
Another man traveling with Maps, 36-year-old Dereck Todd Thompson Junior, tried to break up the fight when Tate said Gardner shot Thompson, who later died.
“Ms. Maps then took off, and started running through the parking lot of the rest area,” Tate explained. “Mr. Gardner, the suspect, started chasing her and firing his weapon at her.”
Tate said Gardner shot Maps as she tried to hide in a bystander’s car, injuring her. Then, he took the four kids in his own car and drove away. Multiple agencies including the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the Walton County Sheriff’s office assisted in tracking down Gardner, who was found in Jackson County.
“The suspect had dropped the kids off at the grandmother’s house and he was wanting to surrender,” Tate said.
As of Monday, all four kids are safe and Maps is recovering in the hospital, officials said.
“We’re thankful it was only as minimal as it was as far as how many people here,” Tate said, adding that there were possibly around thirty people at the rest area at the time of the shooting. “It could have been a whole lot worse than what it was.”
Gardner has been charged with an open count of murder and attempted murder. He was taken to the Jackson County jail upon arrest and is scheduled to be transferred to the Holmes County jail.