On a dirt road, near cow pastures, orange groves and lakes, a Florida sheriff said he encountered one of the worst crime scenes in his career last week: Three close friends appeared to have been beaten and shot to death during a nighttime catfishing trip.
The killings shocked the 3,200-person city of Frostproof, Fla., about 70 miles south of Orlando.
The victims — Damion Tillman, 23, Keven Springfield, 30, and Brandon Rollins, 27 — were “massacred,” the sheriff, Grady Judd of Polk County, said at a news conference on Saturday.
The sheriff said the authorities were looking for information on a motive and potential suspects.
“Our intuitiveness tells us you don’t just stumble upon somebody out here,” Sheriff Judd said. “This is a clay dirt road way out in the middle of what we call God’s country on the way to a nice little fishing lake.”
Neighbors interviewed by the police said the area near the lake was known as “a party location” where locals go on Friday and Saturday nights, Sheriff Judd said on 970-WFLA radio Monday.
At a news conference on Monday, the sheriff said there were no signs of “a dope deal gone bad,” theft or domestic violence.
“We still don’t know why the murder occurred,” he said.
Around 10 p.m. on Friday, the men, who lived in Frostproof and have been best friends for years, decided to go fishing at the lake, Sheriff Judd said.
“What can be more wholesome than meeting up with two of your best friends to go catfishing?” he said on Saturday.
Mr. Tillman arrived first in his red GMC pickup truck and was killed, Sheriff Judd said. Mr. Springfield and Mr. Rollins later arrived in a white pickup truck and were shot.
While Mr. Rollins’s father was asleep at home, he got a call from Mr. Rollins saying, “Help,” the sheriff said.
Mr. Rollins’s father, Cyril, got dressed and drove to where he knew his son and friends were fishing, about 10 minutes away, Sheriff Judd said.
In his hurry, he forgot his cellphone, the sheriff said.
He arrived to find all of the men shot, Sheriff Judd said. Cyril Rollins drove to a convenience store, telling an attendant, “My son needs help,” the sheriff said.
The 17-year-old daughter of the store’s attendant then went back with Cyril Rollins to the lake, Sheriff Judd said.
Before Brandon Rollins died, he said something to his father about what happened, the sheriff said but declined to comment on what Mr. Rollins told his father.
By the time paramedics and the authorities arrived, all three men were dead.
Mr. Judd said that more than one person might have been involved in the attack.
“I’ve been through a lot of murder scenes in my life, and this ranks among the worst I’ve been to,” said Sheriff Judd, who has been at the department for almost 50 years.
Jessica Steenson, who moved from Jacksonville, Fla., to Frostproof two years ago to be with her boyfriend, Mr. Rollins, cried as she spoke to WFLA News Channel 8 on Saturday.
“This is not how it was supposed to be,” she said, “and I want justice for him.”