Deputies from Marion County said they thwarted a plot to attack Eustis police, a church and a local Elks lodge as they raided a shed, where they found 22 firearms, several containers of black powder, bulletproof vests and drugs.
Two men were also found in the shed and arrested for planning the attack, which investigators said was was supposed to happen Monday with a rocket grenade launcher.
Deputies said the suspects, identified Monday as Christopher Conger, 32, and Jeremy Robertson, 29, also had bulletproof vests and even a gilly suit to camoflauge themselves if they were, indeed, plotting the attack.
Eustis police Chief Fred Cobb first learned his department and officers could be in danger Friday afternoon after a Lake County inmate told deputies he knew some people planning an all-out attack on the police department Monday using high-powered weapons.
"It did concern me — when you start talking about rocket grenade launchers — so I felt very confident that the Lake County Sheriff's Office would pursue any leads," Cobb said.
Those leads led them to contact Marion County investigators about a shed across the county line, on Southeast 260th Avenue Road, near Umatilla. Armed with a search warrant, detectives found an arsenal of weapons, including 18 handguns, four long rifles and plenty of ammunition.
Furthering the idea an attack was imminent, they also found bulletproof vests and a gilly suit, plus a pound of marijuana and numerous bags of crack cocaine.
Conger and Robertson, both inside the shed during the raid, were arrested on numerous charges.
"They basically separated themselves from the incident; they said they had no idea that was going on inside their small, little shed," said Lt. Brian Dotten, with the Marion County Sheriff's Office.
Investigators also found the safe the tipster said contained a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. But deputies said the safe was empty, and a third suspect known only as "Rhino" was nowhere to be found.
"The fact that rocket-propelled grenade launcher wasn't found doesn't mean it doesn't exist. We hope we can find it, if it's out there," said Maj. Terry Brevard, with the Marion County Sheriff's Office. "As to the sense of it being false bravado, who knows? We really don't know."
"It kind of scared me, because I was by myself, and it just frightened me," said neighbor Jeannie Cronk. "They used to shoot a lot of guns over there. A lot."
"You cannot measure prevention," Sheriff Chris Blair said. "We don't know what we prevented by taking these two guns off the street and putting these two individuals in custody."
Our news team was invited inside the shed to take a look for ourselves at the safe where the rocket launcher was allegedly stashed. The man who invited us to take a look in the shed said there was no way a rocket grenade launcher and missles could fit inside the medium-sized floor safe.
Despite the search for a third man — and a possibly missing rocket grenade launcher — deputies said they believe all the alleged targets are safe, including the Eustis Police Department, Saint Mary of the Lakes Catholic Church and the Elks Lodge.
Dave D'Marko reported from Marion County.