BROOKSVILLE — Steve Roosa was heavily armed, with weapons and ammunition staged throughout his home, when he set fire to a barn and then began shooting at people, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said on March 6.

The sheriff called a press conference to give more information about the Feb. 17 incident at 9139 Erma Road but did not reveal much about the victims or Roosa himself, besides saying Roosa was a military veteran and he might have had money troubles.

Nienhuis said the incident was much longer and more complicated than deputies usually deal with, so his agency decided to hold a press conference instead of putting out a press release.

He presented a slide show to give a sense of what happened. 

“It was chaotic, to say the least, and information comes at us. It’s an overwhelming amount of information, and sometimes the information is not consistent,” he said. 

Initially, at 4:55 p.m. there was a call about a barn fire from a woman. 

It could have been intentional, careless or even a drug lab, Nienhuis said.

“At this point, we had no idea what we had, other than a fire in the backyard, in a barn, that was apparently set by someone intentionally, or because they were careless,” he said. 

Shots fired

About five minutes later, they got a call of possible shots fired and the person might still be shooting. Dispatchers were also getting calls about explosions.

“We got at least nine calls on this, from nine separate individuals,” he said.

In a recorded 911 call, a woman is shouting frantically that there’s a fire. “It’s the house right before us!” she cries, and later says her husband has been shot and is lying on the ground.

“They shot your husband?” the 911 operator asks.

“Yes, he’s flat on the ground,” she replied and continued to cry out. “Oh my God!”

Her husband went next door to help, she said. “Please help us,” the woman begged, saying she was injured.

The operator can be heard assuring the woman that help is on the way.

The call continues for five more minutes, until someone comes along and brings the woman to law enforcement, Nienhuis said.

She also was injured.

The priority was to contain and neutralize the shooter, the sheriff said, and deputies were coming from all over the county but even so, they had other calls to answer.

At 5:08 p.m., deputies began to arrive; a couple of minutes later the first supervisor arrived and reported more gunshots.

The original caller was shot at as she was fleeing in her vehicle, and the vehicle was hit a few times. She reached law enforcement and told them the shooter is still on foot and he is armed with at least one rifle and at least one handgun.

They didn’t know where the shooter was, but they were aware that this wasn’t a neighbor or domestic dispute; Roosa was just shooting at whoever he could, the sheriff said.

At 5:31 p.m., the supervisor said there is a perimeter on three sides and the barn is still on fire. They were still checking on neighbors to make sure there wasn’t a hostage situation, Nienhuis said.

Information from the woman who fled tells them that “this individual is capable of anything, and this is an extremely unusual situation, because almost never do we have an individual who’s shooting at random.”

The main concern is where the suspect was located, Nienhuis said. A rescue vehicle arrived, outfitted to breach the front door. The vehicle moved around the house to try to find the victim who was on the ground. Unfortunately, he was very seriously injured by a shot to the neck, was extracted at 6:28 p.m. and later died.

At 7:05 p.m., the rescue vehicle went back to the house and breached the door. 

Deputies saw that the suspect was alive, in the house and armed. Over the next hour they tried to communicate without success while they obtained a search warrant.

After an hour of trying to communicate with the suspect, they deployed tear gas into the house and at 8:22 p.m. Roosa left the house armed, pointed a weapon at deputies and was shot.

The scene in the house

Deputies found 12 firearms in the house, Nienhuis said, including six long rifles, two with scopes. The man who was fatally shot might have been shot by a .30-.30 hunting rifle. There were also two shotguns, three revolvers, one semi-automatic handgun and about 70 rounds of ammunition, spent and unused.

At the press conference, Nienhuis didn’t release many details about Roosa beyond vague references to money problems and him being “out of touch with reality.” He was supposedly a veteran, but Nienhuis said he didn’t know what branch or whether there was contact with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The sheriff showed various photos with views of the house’s rooms and the weapons distributed in them.

Roosa had weapons staged in different areas of the house.

“He was certainly ready for a fight,” Nienhuis said.