LAKELAND (FOX 13) - What was supposed to be a meetup to sell an item advertised online ended with a Polk County man dead. Now, the sheriff's office is searching for the killer.
Polk County deputies said it was 9:45 Sunday night when 21-year-old Jeff Morrow was accompanying his friend, who was selling an item he'd posted online.
A person interested in buying it planned to meet him at the Lakeland Family Dollar parking lot on Combee Road. The seller, who isn't being identified, parked his truck. A man approached.
In the midst of the transaction, investigators say the suspect took off running with the item. Morrow and the seller chased after him.
But soon, the sound of their footsteps was deafened by an even louder sound. Gunshots. As the seller took cover behind the truck, he saw Morrow on the ground. He'd been hit.
Though the seller rushed into the store to call 911, Morrow, who'd just recently moved to Polk County from Pennsylvania, was pronounced dead at the hospital.
"The sheriff's department knocked on the door and needed to talk to us," said Thong Detsouvanh, the owner of the nearby Marathon gas station.
Deputies woke him up. They needed him to come to the store right away.
"They said they spotted the man running this way in our parking lot and wanted to see our outside camera," Detsouvanh said. "We showed them whatever we could, whatever they need, we wanted to help them out."
He hopes it's enough to track down the killer. After all, he's been in business 28 years in Lakeland, 14 years in that location, and he says that kind of senseless violence has no place here.
"We just want to watch out for each other, just want to keep the crime down, try to report anything that is in the neighborhood," Detsouvanh said. "It's unfortunate, anything like this happens. Scare my wife and the family a little bit."
This is just an unsettling reminder of the dangers involved with meeting strangers, whether it's for a sale or even a date. Many law enforcement agencies have offered up their properties as safe places for meetups. If one party is looking for trouble, deputies say they're unlikely to even show up.
Investigators haven't said what item was up for sale. The suspect is described as a black male in his 20s, wearing a white or light gray zipped up hooded jacket, a red shirt, and white sneakers.
Detectives are actively investigating this homicide, and are seeking any information about this crime. If you have information about this investigation, please call PCSO at 863-298-6200. Or to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward contact Heartland Crime Stoppers at 1-800-226-TIPS (8477).