LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) — Polk County Sheriff’s Office deputies have a man in custody who they say shot and killed his ex-girlfriend’s current boyfriend in front of a 5-year-old child.
“This is a terrible tragedy,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said during a news conference. “Everyone involved in this were decent, hardworking people.”
Deputies arrived at the home, at 202 Alderman Road in northwest Lakeland, around 6 p.m. Wednesday and found the victim, Clifford Cofer II, shot dead in a car outside of the residence.
Cofer was a firefighter in Sumter County and was from Frostproof. “He made a career out of saving people’s lives, and he was gunned down sitting in a car,” Sheriff Judd said.
The shooter has been identified as Caleb McKinney, 31. He lives in the Lakeland home where this happened. He is an assistant parts manager at Lakeland Toyota.
According to investigators, McKinney’s ex-girlfriend Kayla Stayner, 27, who is a nurse, and her current boyfriend, Clifford Cofer II, traveled to McKinney, to deliver medicine for an infant child that Stayner had with McKinney.
When the couple arrived at the home, deputies say McKinney came out with a gun and shot Cofer multiple times.
“Caleb opened the door when Kayla arrived and sprinted to the car where Clifford was sitting. He shot him five times, in the chest and stomach,” Sheriff Judd said. “Caleb confessed to detectives, and said he just lost it.”
The suspect pointed the gun at Kayla next, but then went back into the home where he barricaded himself until deputies arrived. Deputies convinced the suspect to exit the home and was taken into custody safely.
Stayner’s 5-year-old child was sitting behind Cofer and witnessed the shooting , according to Sheriff Judd. When a deputy went to take the child, he said to the deputy, “I don’t want to get in the car, I don’t want to get killed.”
Stayner and McKinney were together for three and a half years, but broke up recently. Sheriff Judd said McKinney was Baker Acted in July, after trying to commit suicide by taking pills. “He was so distraught about the relationsip ending, even though he is the one who ended it. Caleb broke up with Kayla.”
Kayla Damon, who lives nearby, heard the shots and ran to help. “We heard shots at my house. My husband and I looked out the window and thought one of the kids got hurt because they were running around the yard screaming,” Damon said.
“The kids were screaming and the little boy ran up to me and said take me to your house, take me to your house. The kids were in the car when the shooting happened.”
Damon got the kids away from the house. She has medical training so she ran to the victim, who was still in the car. “I went ahead and checked on the guy who was in the vehicle, to see if he was alive, and to see if I could save him. There was nothing I could do. He was gone. Then I saw the actual shooter come up and that’s when I ran to the other neighbors house. He didn’t say anything. He just looked upset, distraught. He had his pistol on his leg. He just looked upset.”
Other neighbors said the couple had recently broken up and wasn’t doing well mentally.
“It’s upsetting for everybody involved,” Damon said.
Cofer’s family is mourning his death. His mother, Cynthia Cofer, told News Channel 8 that she thought breast cancer would be her toughest battle. “That’s a piece of cake compared to burying your son when he is in the prime of his life, and just becoming the man he is supposed to be.”
Clifford Cofer was going back to school to get his bachelor’s degree and he was also a hard worker. “He always was there for this community and the Sumter County community.”
According to his mom, he liked bull riding in high school but eventually became a firefighter, following in his dad’s footsteps. His father is the Chief of the Frostproof Fire Department. “He was a proud strong raised him to be the firefighter that he is. That he was,” she said.
Cynthia Cofer said the family is stunned over his death. “To be taken so senselessly, I don’t even understand.”
Cynthia Cofer said her son will be buried with full firefighters honors in Frostproof, where he grew up.