FLORENCE COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Florence County, a community that knows the heartbreak of losing law enforcement officers all too well, mourned an officer fatally shot at Florence Regional Airport early Sunday morning.
It is the third law enforcement officer to be fatally shot in Florence County in less than two years.
Investigators say 26-year-old Jackson Ryan Winkeler was shot while making a traffic stop at the airport.
When Winkeler wasn’t working as an airport officer, he spent his time as a firefighter at the Latta Fire Department.
On Monday, a procession of emergency vehicles made its way from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston to a funeral home in the Latta area.
Friends who worked alongside Winkeler at the Latta Fire Department said the community is extremely close-knit and devastated by this loss.
“To lose one of our own is probably the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to deal with,” Lt. Nic Bethea, a firefighter at the Latta Fire Department, said. “That’s the closest it’s hit to home.”
Nic Bethea fought fires alongside Winkeler for the last year, but they’ve been friends since middle school. Bethea said losing him is like losing a brother.
“Jackson had a heart of gold and that was the most important part to us," Nic Bethea said. “He always cared about everyone else. He always put himself last to make sure everyone had what they needed. Jackson would give you the world.”
He said Winkeler’s death has been devastating for the entire community.
“There is no one in this community who didn’t know Jackson Winkeler," he said. “It didn’t matter who you were, he treated everyone the same.”
Winkeler’s tragic death is a fresh wave of heartbreak for the Florence community who lost two officers, Deputy Farrah Turner and Sergeant Terrence Carraway, during a shooting in October of 2018. Florence County Council Chair Waymon Mumford said the community is still trying to recover and heal from losing both officers.
“The one this morning, right back to the same thing we had in 2018 so it’s just so sad,” Mumford said.
Officials said this was the first officer-involved shooting in the nation in 2020.
“I don’t know what goes through people’s minds to cause them to do such hideous crimes,” Mumford said.
Winkeler’s fellow firefighters said he was one of the most selfless people they knew.
“If I had to make one phone call, and it wasn’t to family, it would be to Jackson because you know he would do all he could to help you,” John Bethea, a Latta Fire Department firefighter, said.
Nic Bethea said Winkeler always wanted to go into law enforcement to help and serve his community, and his loss will be felt by law enforcement and the entire community for a long time to come.
“It has brought us closer together than we thought we were. It has shown us the true meaning of brotherhood. The thin blue line and the thin red line -- they’re together. Public safety in general,” Nic Bethea said.
The Florence Airport Director made a statement Monday saying Winkeler brought so much joy to the airport’s work family and that he is, and will always, be Florence Regional Airport’s hero.
Deputies have arrested one suspect, James Belle. He is currently at Florence County Detention Center. He will appear in court Tuesday morning.