A Florida policeman was gunned down three days before his daughter turned 17. Despite the loss of her father, Unique Howard did not celebrate her birthday alone—her law enforcement family was there, surprising her with an unforgettable birthday.
On Friday, Aug. 18, 2017, Kissimmee Police Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard was shot in the line of duty. The officer died the next day at Osceola Regional Medical Center.
Despite the tragic incident, Unique insisted on working on her birthday. Unknown to the 17-year-old, she was walking toward the surprise of a lifetime as she entered the grocery store in St. Cloud in her work uniform.
Seeing her arrival, dozens of law-enforcement officers, civilians, and shoppers broke into applause. Led by her colleague, the deeply moved Unique walked into the middle of the clapping crowd, where she wiped away tears as her colleague pulled her into a hug.
Originally planning to surprise Unique at her home, the officers came to her workplace instead upon learning Unique’s plan from her mother, according to Kissimmee Police spokeswoman Stacie Miller.
“She’s a very strong young lady,” Miller said, reported the Orlando Sentinel.
After everybody sang “Happy Birthday,” Kissimmee Police Lt. James Napier told Unique, the only child of Richard Howard, that she was never alone.
“From now and forever, you don’t stand alone. You don’t suffer alone. You’re never alone because all of these people are here for you, and we’re here to protect you,” Napier told Unique, as seen in a video posted by Osceola County Sheriff’s Office on Facebook.
Unique was then presented with two symbolic objects of her father—a law enforcement officer memorial coin and a thin blue line bracelet.
A pink-and-white cake was also given to the birthday girl, before Unique thanked everyone at the end of the video.
Many people shared their thoughts on the video, which captured the heartwarming moments that were broadcast live on Facebook.
“Such an amazing young girl I can’t believe she made it to work today happy birthday sweetheart you and your family are in our prayers,” Facebook user Frankie Wester Turner wrote.
“Happy Birthday, many blessings and strength to continue with your life and goals as your Dad will like to see them been a reality. I was there too, keep going,” a Facebook user, Wilma Gonzalez-Apablaza, commented.
Different agencies coming together to sing happy birthday to Unique, Sgt. Howard's daughter! #commUNITYstrong #OsceolaStrong
由 Osceola County Sheriff's Office 发布于 2017年8月21日周一
The Friday shooting didn’t only claim the life of Howard—Officer Matthew Baxter was gunned down and died on the very same night.
Near Cypress Streets around 9:30 p.m., Baxter started a routine check into three people who were acting suspicious. Hearing a call from his fellow officer, Howard, who was in the area at that time, went to back-up Baxter, according to a Kissimmee Police spokeswoman.
During the check, Everett Glenn Miller opened fire on both Howard and Baxter, and the officers were surprised by the attack, according to Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell.
“Officers immediately responded to the area and found two of their fallen brothers gravely injured on the roadway,” O’Dell said, reported CNN.
The injured officers were then rushed to Osceola Regional Medical Center. However, Baxter, a three-year veteran, died in the hospital the same night, according to Officer Down Memorial Page.
The following afternoon, the 36-year-old Howard was taken off life support, on the very same day of his mother’s birthday, according to Orlando Sentinel.
**UPDATE from KPD..Sgt. Howard has succumbed to his injuries… We would like to tell the families of Officer Baxter…
“He always wanted to be a cop, ever since he was a kid, he always wanted to arrest the bad people,” Howard’s “auntie,” Darlene Richardson, said to Orlando Sentinel. “He didn’t want to see nobody hurting.”
O’Dell spoke highly of the two fallen officers.
“They are both wonderful men, family men. They are both very committed to the community,” O’Dell said. “They were the epitome of what you ask for in law enforcement officers.”
President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences after learning the news.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the @KissimmeePolice and their loved ones. We are with you!” the president said.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017
Baxter was married to a fellow officer and had four small children. Howard was married to an elementary teacher and only had the one daughter. Howard had been with the Kissimmee Police Department for a decade, earning his promotion just a month prior.
About two hours after the shooting, Miller was arrested by officers from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office. According to O’Dell, the suspect had a 9-mm pistol and a .22-caliber revolver on him when he was found in a bar.
In addition to first-degree murder, Miller also faced the charges of resisting arrest and carrying a concealed weapon. The 45-year-old suspect was enlisted in the Marines and had no criminal record. However, in his social media account, Miller wrote posts threatening law enforcement.
According to Orlando Sentinel, Howard and Baxter were working in an area that had a history of crime. In 2008, a crackdown on drugs and violence led to the arrest of 19 people. During the subsequent trials, witnesses testified that crime was so rampant that taxis’ delivery businesses refused to provide services to the people living in the area.