BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) — An alert cafeteria worker at a Bartow elementary school is being hailed a hero after her calm actions and quick thinking helped alert authorities about the armed kidnapping of a corrections officer.
According to new documents released on Thursday, Tina Morris from Floral Avenue Elementary School was eating her lunch in a nearby park when four panicked inmates came running up to her. They told her about a terrifying ordeal that they had just witnessed; the corrections officer supervising them on work detail was just taken at knifepoint and held hostage.
The men explained how their fellow inmate, David Ross, had taken a steak knife from a men’s restroom in the park where they were working, held it to the officer’s throat and then took off with the corrections officer in a city truck.
The inmates also explained that they had been locked in a restroom by Ross, who claimed he “just wanted a ride.” They managed to kick down the door and break free to run for help.
Tina kept her cool after hearing their story and dialed 911. “These for inmates are here, like, freaking out. They’re on work detail, and they said one of the other inmates kidnapped the officer and they left in the truck. They’re pointing which way they went.”
Tina then began some detective work of her own, hopping into her Ford F-150 pickup truck to drive around Bartow, hoping to help save the corrections officer’s life.
She told a 911 dispatcher, “I’m driving around the block, and I don’t see them anywhere. I looked both ways, and I don’t see the work truck anywhere.”
Documents show that Ross begin driving at a high rate of speed toward Pinellas County, where he has family. Corrections Officer Jeffrey Rexrode managed to escape after they stopped at a gas station.
Ross was later caught by deputies with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
But, there is one lingering question, “Why are corrections officers who supervise inmates on work detail not armed with a gun?”
WFLA News Channel 8 asked this question to the department of corrections. We were told that in situations like these, where inmates have just a short time left on their sentences, it is typical for the supervising officer on scene to be armed only with the handcuffs and pepper spray.
Meanwhile, neighbors who live near the park in Bartow where the hostage incident began corrections officers should be armed with more weapons.
As far as where the steak knife came from, detectives with Bartow PD and the Florida Department of corrections are investigating that now.