• Thousands attend funeral of slain Kissimmee police officers

    By: Jason Kelly , Jeff Deal


    KISSIMMEE, Fla. - Thousands of people filled the First Baptist Church of Orlando Thursday to honor Kissimmee police Sgt. Sam Howard and Officer Matthew Baxter.

    Investigators said Everett Miller, 45, shot the men Friday during a scuffle at Palmway and East Cypress streets. Baxter died that evening, and Howard died Saturday.

    A police motorcade escorted two flag-draped coffins from Conrad & Thompson Funeral Home in Kissimmee to the church.

    Photos: Funeral service for Kissimmee police officers

    Watch the funeral procession from Skywitness 9 below:

    Donate: Kissimmee creates fund for families of slain police officers

    Kissimmee police Capt. Jeff Tambasco and Sgt. Ian Downing shared memories of Howard and Baxter during a news conference outside the church before the funeral service.

    "I stand here before you this morning with a heavy heart," Downing said. "Sam's departure creates a void for all of us."

    Downing said Howard loved music and cars. He said he had a positive attitude and a special handshake for every one.

    Howard had been promoted to sergeant last month. 

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    © 2018 Cox Media Group.
    © 2018 Cox Media Group.

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    "Sam always carried with him an infectious and beautiful smile -- a smile that was sure to brighten the darkest of days," he said.

    Downing, who was raised in Kissimmee, graduated from Osceola High School. He returned to his hometown after joining the military and serving overseas.

    Tambasco described Baxter as a leader in the community.

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    See the Honor Guard take the caskets into the church below:

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    "We lost a gentle man who was loyal to his family, friends, co-workers and the community," Tambasco said.

    Baxter was raised in Baltimore and moved to Central Florida after graduating high school.

    Baxter recently requested to be reassigned to a night shift so he could spend more time with his four daughters, Tambasco said.

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    Watch officers share memories of the fallen Kissimmee officers:

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    "I asked him during that conversation when he planned on sleeping," he said. "His answer was, 'Whenever I can. But the kids come first.'"

    Pastor David Uth said there are no words to make sense of what happened to Howard and Baxter.

    "To Sam's family, to Matthew's family: Thank you for allowing us to stand with you," Uth said. "These are wives and children along with co-workers still asking why."

    Read: Memorial grows for fallen Kissimmee police officers

    © 2018 Cox Media Group.
    © 2018 Cox Media Group.

    Photos: Community honors fallen Kissimmee police officers

    Read: Police escort body of slain Kissimmee police sergeant

    Kissimmee police Chief Jeff O’Dell called the officers “angels” and said they truly cared about people.

    “Sometimes we do everything right and evil still prevails,” he said. 

    Chris Sheets, a friend of Howard’s, said Howard loved to laugh and lived for his daughter, Unique.

    “If you know him, you know that’s the reason she’s the way she is now,” he said.

    Baxter volunteered with a Big Brother and Big Sisters.

    A friend showed a gift Baxter had given him of a small statue of an officer holding a child’s hand.

    “He said, ‘Buddy, this is to remind you why we got into this job,’” he said.

    Baxter’s wife and fellow officer, Sadia Baxter, asked the audience for a favor.

    “Please keep my family in your prayers, especially our daughters,” she said. 

    Watch: Sadia Baxter speaks at funeral

    Following the service, a police motorcade escorted the officers' bodies to Woodlawn Memorial Park & Funeral Home in Orange County's Gotha neighborhood for burial.

    Baxter leaves behind a wife and four daughters, and Howard leaves behind a fiancée and a daughter.

    Officials with the city of Kissimmee have opened an account for the families of the fallen officers. Donations may be made at any SunTrust Bank location. Click here for details.

    © 2018 Cox Media Group.

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