LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Domestic violence is at the center of this weekend’s officer-involved shooting in Lakeland, spotlighting how dangerous it can be for victims, even when they leave the relationship.
According to law enforcement, Lakeland police officers responded to the Cobblestone Landing Townhomes Sunday morning after a report of a break-in.
Police say Howayne Gayle, 35, had broken into his ex-girlfriend’s home.
When they arrived, police said they witnessed Gayle shoot his ex-girlfriend in the abdomen in the nearby parking lot.
In response, officers shot Gayle. He died on scene.
The 37-year old victim died at the hospital.
“[Domestic violence] can really, really happen to anyone, it doesn’t discriminate,” said Georgia Barrett-Odon, who lives in the neighborhood.
She heard the gunshots and screams Sunday morning.
She remains struck by the sudden presence of domestic violence in her otherwise peaceful, tight-knit community.
“She had the voice, she had the empowerment to say ‘Hey, let me get out of this’ but the attackers, they don’t get it,” said Barrett-Odon.
“I’m sad because this is unnecessary. It’s domestic violence and I feel like we don’t speak enough about it. It happens every day,” said Shanequa Sykes, who lives across the street from the victim’s unit.
Sykes just recently moved into the town home but noticed some tumult across the way.
“I do know a couple nights before the incident happened, they were arguing,” she said.
The Lakeland Police Department is still working on a full background check on the suspect, Howayne Gayle.
“He has been a subject to some other calls, not particularly with this victim but related to these type of incidents in the past,” said Chief Ruben Garcia.
Experts tell 8 On Your Side, domestic violence in Tampa Bay has only gotten worse during the pandemic.
“We’ve seen an escalation in the intensity of the violence and the level of violence. It’s been bordering on a sort of sadistic levels of violence this past year,” said Mindy Murphy, CEO, The Spring of Tampa Bay, a refuge for victims of domestic violence.
Murphy points out the most dangerous time for abuse survivors is right after they decide to leave the relationship.
“We say ‘Why are you staying? You need to leave.’ When they leave, that’s often when their lives are placed at greatest risks. That sounds like what happened to her,” she said.
Murphy considers this incident to be a murder-suicide, since Gayle shot the victim in front of police officers.
That, she says, is not unique.
“The abuser will resort to anything including killing a partner and then killing themselves to reestablish that sense of control,” said Murphy.
The Spring of Tampa Bay is free and open 24/7 to help survivors devise a plan to safely leave an abusive relationship.
“If you are in an unsafe relationship, or even if you just suspect something isn’t right in your relationship, we are here for you, 24 hours a day. We will believe you. We will listen to you,” she said.
It is one of 41 domestic violence centers in the state of Florida.
Find a center near you by visiting https://www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/domestic-violence/map.shtml and https://www.myflfamilies.com/service-programs/domestic-violence/.