A 39-year-old man was shot and killed by Florida law enforcement after he set his girlfriend’s 9-year-old son on fire because he thought the minor was “possessed by a demon”, the New York Post reported. The deceased, identified as Richard Ham, also attacked a deputy with a rod.
In a press release, the Highland County Sheriff’s Office said deputies and Highlands County Fire-Rescue responded to a location in Sebring on December 19 after they received a report of multiple people burning live ammunition and other debris.
Authorities said Ham was armed with two metal rods when the deputies arrived, adding that the deceased man was later tased after he refused to comply with the deputies’ orders. The taser, however, seemingly did not have “an effect on Ham, who dropped the metal rods and pulled the taser probes from his body”, the press release stated.
Ham’s girlfriend, identified as Lakenya Phillips, was also at the scene. She is said to have given Ham the rod he subsequently used to attack the deputy. A deputy then opened fire on Ham. The 39-year-old was later taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.
“Immediately after the shooting, Phillips began to push deputies as they tried to secure Ham and render aid,” the press release said. “She was taken into custody at the scene.”
Authorities also said that an initial investigation determined Ham and Phillips had set Phillips’ 9-year-old son’s possessions on fire because they believed the minor “was possessed by a demon.”
“At one point, witnesses said, Ham put the child into the fire and covered him with a blanket that was also on fire,” per the press release. “The child was able to escape serious injury and is currently in DCF custody.”
Phillips’ son also told authorities he had neither bathed nor brushed his teeth for at least 10 days, adding that he had also not been fed after they came to Florida. The minor also said his mother and Ham occasionally used drugs, and the deceased man had initially threatened him with a knife that he claimed he had used to kill another individual. Authorities said they are following up on Ham’s supposed claim.
Prior to the fatal incident, Phillips and her son had also been reported missing and endangered out of Wichita, Kansas, authorities said. It could, however, not be determined how they ended up in Highlands County.
Phillips faces a slew of charges including attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence and cruelty toward a child.