A 14-year-old boy, Joseph Freeman, who was on home furlough from the STAR (Sheriff’s Training and Respect) Program during the weekend of April 7-8, 2007, was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound inside a vehicle that he stole, on Sunday, April 8, 2007.
Freeman was signed out from the STAR Program by his mother, Penny Culver, at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, April 7, and was taken by her to Joseph’s uncle’s house at 1611 Slash Pine Road in Lakeland. Joseph’s uncle went to bed at 1:00 a.m. on Sunday, April 8, which is the last time he saw Joseph. When Joseph’s uncle awoke around 7:30 a.m. Sunday, he noticed that Joseph was missing, and called Joseph’s mother. She in turn called the Polk County Sheriff’s Office to report him as a missing person, however, Joseph was not scheduled to return to the STAR Program until 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, per the allowed 32-hour home visit agreement. Home visits are an important part of the STAR Program to help cadets transition back into the community.
Meanwhile, Franklin Woessner reported his 1998 Dodge Dakota pickup truck stolen at 8:38 a.m. on Sunday from the Auburndale Nature Trail at Denton & Berkley Roads in Auburndale. Family members of Woessner’s saw someone driving the stolen truck near Saddle Creek Road just after noon, and followed it. According to the family members, Joseph rammed their vehicle in the cul-de-sac of Hickory Road, and just after the crash, they observed the truck drive through a barbed wire fence and crash into a tree. During the entire time that they were following the stolen truck, until they observed it crash, they were on the phone with PCSO dispatchers. They did not get out of their vehicle after Woessner’s truck crashed, but waited inside their vehicle for law enforcement to arrive. Responding deputies located an unidentified white male youth with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound inside the truck. Franklin Woessner confirmed that he kept a .45 caliber handgun in the center console of his truck, which was the weapon used. Freeman was declared dead at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. The death investigation is underway, however all indications to include the preliminary autopsy results are that his death is a suicide.
The body was positively identified through AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System) as Joseph Freeman, DOB 7/15/92, of 1536 Churchill Court in Lakeland at 10:45 p.m. on Sunday.
Freeman was remanded to the STAR Program on September 1, 2006, on charges of Grand Theft of a Motor Vehicle, VOP Possession of Cannabis, VOP Domestic Violence, VOP Throwing Missile into Building, Making Harassing Phone Calls, and Battery. He has a criminal history dating back to 1997. He was a good cadet, and had a 3.7 GPA in the academic program. He was scheduled to graduate from the program on April 20, 2007. His STAR Program file is available for public inspection, upon request.