POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Lt. Duane Tompkins tries to no longer dwell on the events of Sept. 5, 2021, though it is often a source of reflection.
“I constantly find myself going back to that day and thinking ‘I would have missed this moment with my children or my wife had that situation gone differently,’” said Lt. Tompkins.
Lt. Tompkins was recognized Tuesday as “Deputy of the Year” by The Lakeland South Rotary Club at the President’s Roundtable Awards Ceremony. The annual ceremony honors heroic actions performed by members of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Lakeland Police Department, Polk County Fire Rescue and Lakeland Fire Department.
“I’m very humbled by the award and the recognition,” said Lt. Tompkins, who has received other awards for his response to a quadruple homicide last year.
Lt. Tompkins was on an unrelated burglary call on Socrum Loop Road when he heard gunshots in the overnight hours of Sept. 5, 2021.
He responded to a home after seeing 911 calls come through.
“We hear a blood-curdling scream from a female and we can hear what sounds like a baby just whimpering and crying,” he said.
Lt. Tompkins used his training to discern the situation. There was a car on fire outside and glow sticks lining the yard, signaling a possible ambush threat.
Doors to the home were locked and barricaded.
“Duane Tompkins has the training, the best training in America. Certainly at that moment in time, it’s still up to him internally what he does with that training,” said Polk County Sheriff’s Office Chief of Staff Steve Lester.
When Lt. Tompkins made entry to the home, he came face-to-face with the suspected shooter.
“He’s got full body armor on. He’s got knee pads. He’s got a med kit and he steps out and he begins just firing at me. Simultaneously, I’m returning fire back at him,” said Lt. Tompkins.
“Had you walked up to me with a winning Powerball ticket and I’d be set for life financially or gave me the feeling that she was alive and was gonna make it – I would take that moment,” said Lt. Tompkins. “That was just an absolute highlight for a situation that was overwhelming to know that we did have a survivor out of it.”
“Nothing’s better than when your folks make you proud. We’re not crazy about the outcome relative to the victims, obviously but what our folks did was so heroic. They couldn’t have done better,” Lester said.
The girl was shot several times but survived. Her father, step-mother, baby brother and grandmother were killed. The attack was random, according to authorities.
Lt. Tompkins has grappled with the events of that day ever since.
“The massive adrenaline dump took months. So there’s physical parts – there’s no sleep. Your appetite changes. Your stress levels are all over the place,” said Lt. Tompkins.
Other award recipients at the ceremony Tuesday include Lakeland firefighters and police officers who found children inside homes filled with smoke and an off-duty firefighter/EMT who helped a woman injured in a car crash.