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Harrisburg native apprehended in connection with killing of Florida sheriff's deputy

  • Deputy Josh Moyers

    Deputy Josh Moyers
    Courtesy of the Nassau County Sheriff's Office

  • Patrick McDowell

    Patrick McDowell
    Courtesy of the Nassau County Sheriff's Office

By Renee Trappe
updated: 10/3/2021 6:08 PM

A 35-year-old former Marine who grew up in Harrisburg was captured this week after an intense five-day manhunt following the shooting death of a Nassau County, Florida deputy.

Patrick McDowell, of Jacksonville, Florida, is suspected of shooting Deputy Josh Moyers after Moyers initiated a traffic stop at 2:30 a.m. Friday about three miles south of Callahan, Florida. According to the sheriff's office, a man thought to be McDowell was driving a stolen Chrysler minivan with an unidentified woman passenger at the time of the vehicle stop.

Authorities said Moyers was shot in the face and back. He was found wounded by a second deputy, and the abandoned minivan and the passenger found nearby. Police say Moyers' body camera recorded the shooting.

The deputy, 29 and recently engaged, died Sunday in hospital, the sheriff's office said.

Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said authorities set up a 5-mile perimeter around the site of the shooting and kept squeezing it, confident McDowell was somewhere inside the ring.

On Friday evening, Leeper said, a Jacksonville County police dog discovered McDowell bedded down in a wooded area. He shot the dog, Leeper said, and SWAT team members returned fire, striking McDowell in the thigh and grazing his head. But McDowell escaped. The dog is recovering, the sheriff confirmed.

On Tuesday, authorities got the break they were looking for. Tips suggested McDowell had holed up around the concession stand and bathrooms of the Kirsten Higginbotham Sports Complex, near Callahan Intermediate School.

"We surrounded those two places, and he called out that he wanted to give himself up," Leeper said. "So we gave him that opportunity."

Leeper said McDowell came out of the bathrooms and got down on the ground.

"He crawled," Leeper said. "He crawled like a baby, like the coward he is."

McDowell was put in handcuffs, he said, the cuffs that had belonged to Deputy Josh Moyers.

Nassau County Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Ashley Spicer said it was unclear how long McDowell had been in the concession building, but said he ate food and found clothes there. When he was arrested, Leeper said, McDowell was wearing a Callahan soccer shirt, and had another shirt wrapped around his wounded leg.

Spicer said Wednesday that McDowell was taken immediately to a local hospital. His wound was infected, she said, and he will not have a first court appearance until he is out of the hospital.

In response to a reporter's question, Leeper said authorities would have found it acceptable to take out McDowell by force.

"I wish he would have given us an opportunity to shoot him," the sheriff said. "But he didn't ... And now he's in custody and he's going to pay for what he did."

Patrick McDowell's father, Richard McDowell, confirmed that his son was born in Jacksonville, Florida but grew up in Harrisburg, graduating from Harrisburg High School around 2004. The family lived in Somerset and Dorrisville, he added. (See end of story for Richard McDowell's full statement).

Leeper also said a woman has been arrested and charged with trying to help McDowell escape. Reports indicate her name is Breiana Tole, 27, from Jacksonville, and that investigators tracked her by monitoring social media websites and watching possible friends of McDowell's.

According to police, at around 3 p.m. on Monday, McDowell messaged Tole from a newly created Facebook account and told her to call him. He told her he was in bad shape.

"it's not looking good. i need u more now than I've ever needed another living soul," police say he wrote to her. "I don't beg, but I will be honest with you, without your help, I'm either gonna die out here from the wounds or they will kill me."

Police say Tole was on her way to the sports complex to pick up McDowell and get him out of the area, when she saw law enforcement there, waiting.

McDowell's father, Richard, issued a statement to Florida newspapers and broadcast media after his son's capture, in which he deeply regretted the taking of Deputy Meyers' life.

McDowell said his son returned from U.S. Marine service in Iraq suffering from depression, headaches and nightmares, and sought help from the VA, where he was diagnosed with PTSD and depression and some physical infirmities.

"Please don't think I'm making excuses for him or trying to rationalize his actions," Richard McDowell wrote. "At first, he was motivated to deal with his demons and started a family." But as time progressed, Patrick slipped into "a darker place," his dad wrote.

Full statement by Richard McDowell
"I would like to express my deepest regrets to the family and friends of Deputy Moyers. I know that's small consolation given what a good and decent man he was. If I could change what happened, or trade places with him I would.

"I want to explain a few things about Patrick but please don't think I'm making excuses for him or trying to rationalize his actions.

"After Patrick returned from Iraq he enrolled and sought help from the VA for depression, headaches, and nightmares. He was diagnosed with PTSD and depression and some physical infirmities.

"At first, he was motivated to deal with his demons and started a family. As time progressed, he slipped into a darker place. He had trouble with seizures, pain management, and sleep patterns. He turned to drugs and quit going to his VA appointments. He started stealing to support his habit and was arrested.

"He was accepted into Veterans Treatment Court and was doing very well. Judge Floyd and David were very engaged with him as were the Lovings at 5 Star (Five Star Veterans Center Inc. in Florida).

"When the COVID lockdowns began, the court had to go to virtual sessions which meant less supervision for the mentees. Apparently, this happened at a critical time in his treatment, and he immediately slipped back into his old habits and was arrested in Georgia.

"He was in the Georgia jail for a year (and still hasn't had a trial because of COVID). After a year he came back to Jacksonville and was again generously accepted by the Lovings at 5 Star.

"You could see the spark had gone out of him and despite our many efforts he slipped over the edge and did this horrible thing.

"I had resigned myself to the fact that he might overdose or take his own life. I never dreamed he would take someone else's life. There are no excuses for what he did, and he will get what he deserves, one way or another.

"I'm not going to be a hypocrite and plead for his life; he was well aware of the consequences. If someone had done that to him, I would be enraged, so I understand the hate and vitriol directed at him.

"Just know that he wasn't always like this. He is my son and I love him. My heart breaks for Deputy Moyers' family. I hope, at some point, they can find some peace."

Richard McDowell

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