The dad of one of three longtime friends shot dead during a fishing trip held his son in his arms after the dying man managed to phone and say: “Come help me.”
Damion Tillman, 23, Keven Springfield, 30, and Brandon Rollins, 27, all died in the Friday night “massacre” which has left murder detectives stumped.
Brandon was “barely alive” when he managed to call his father Cyril for help as his two friends lay dead nearby at the scene in Frostproof in central Florida.
As police launched a manhunt for the killers, the devastated dad told TV news station WFLA 8: “When I got there I was looking for my son. It was a mess. I found my son. I was holding him he was telling me what happened but I was too shocked to know what was going on.”
Announcing a $30,000 (£23,600) reward, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the motive for the triple murder isn’t known.
He said: “We don’t seen any obvious signs of a drug deal gone bad. We still don’t know why the murder occurred.”
The sheriff said the killings don’t appear to be motivated by a domestic issue or robbery, and it appears there was more than one killer.
Cyril raised the alarm after his son called him and he arrived at the scene to find his son clinging to life and the other two men dead after being beaten and shot.
He was later taken to hospital to be treated for shock.
Cyril later told WFLA 8 that he rushed out of his home so quickly that he forgot his mobile phone, so he e went to a nearby petrol station to call 911.
He said: “I was just so upset last night, I just didn’t know what to do.
“We heard some background and they fussing all that.”
“But I left, I went on out here. When I got there I was looking for my son. It was a mess. I found my son. I was holding him he was telling me what happened but I was too shocked to know what was going on.”
His son Brandon had died by the time police and paramedics arrived.
Brandon’s mum Dottie Payton told the Ledger newspaper that the three best friends often went fishing together in at night.
She said Brandon called his dad at about 10pm and it was obvious that something was wrong.
The mum added: “He was hard to understand because there was so much static, but we heard him say ‘Come help me, help me’.
“He sounded very weak, and I could tell he was hurting. He sounded different.”
Police said Damion was attacked when he arrived first for a night of fishing for catfish.
Brandon and Keven arrived together a short time later and saw Damion being beaten by the attackers, who then shot them.
Sheriff Judd said the victims were “massacred”, adding: “This is a horrific scene. I’ve been to a lot of murder scenes in my life and this ranks among the worst.”
He also suggested it wasn’t a random attack.