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Hendry County sheriff says multiple suspects in festival shooting

A family is heartbroken and in tears as a shooter remains on the loose. The loved ones of 20-year-old Evereonna Sankey simply want to know who shot and killed her, and why.

The Hendry County Sheriff’s Office recently released the report detailing Saturday night’s shooting.

WINK News has been asking the sheriff’s office for answers after it expressed concerns about security at the festival.

The public information officer emailed the almost 18-page report to WINK News reporter Breanna Ross but it is heavily redacted.

There are no details about how Evereonna died but they do have suspects in mind. The Sheriff’s office isn’t saying who they are to where they’re from.

Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden did say that finding the person or people who killed the 20-year-old is his top priority.

“Our guys are on the ground and they are looking at all the leads right now and they are doing what they can to get this solved. We want to get this one solved I mean this is, this is a travesty,” said Whidden.

The sheriff wouldn’t be specific about the number of suspects only saying there is “more than one.”

But, they do seem confident about who they’re looking into. “We are pretty confident right now but we just have to get the groundwork done to make everything stick,” sid Sheriff’s Whidden.

Teresa Sankey, Evereonna’s mother, is no stranger to Hendry County’s Brown Sugar Festival. She used to serve as the vice president of the event and even helped organize it. So, she knows how much security is necessary for the festival to run smoothly.

“Normally they have police officers walking in the crowds. I know how it goes,” Sankey said. “We’ve got to get consent from. We have police officers come from Fort Myers, Palm Beach, and everywhere normally.”

But, when Sankey left her daughter, 20-year-old Evereonna Sankey, at the festival she noticed the lack of law enforcement right away.

“I seen two police officers,” she said. “That’s the only two police I seen with all of those people out there.”

Many in the community, including Sankey, are wondering why there wasn’t a heavier law enforcement presence.

After sifting through April meeting minutes from the Hendry County Board of Commissioners meeting, WINK News found out that festival organizers presented over 300 signatures. All of these to show the board just how much the community wanted The Brown Sugar Festival back this year.

Commissioners then asked if the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office could cover the festival. Hendry County’s Chief Deputy Kevin Nelson said “they would be ill-prepared to protect residents.”

Commissioners ultimately approved the festival to give the Harlem community a positive event to look forward to. But, the county’s board of commissioners did this under the premise that the event would be much smaller than it was in past years.

That premise didn’t hold. 2,000 people showed up to celebrate the Brown Sugar Festival. The festival embraces Black heritage and provides scholarships to young people.

The Hendry County Sheriff’s Office is usually given six months to prepare for the event, which is just enough time to ask for help from neighboring departments.

The late approval made securing the necessary reinforcements next to impossible.

Yet, Sheriff Whidden did say that he had 50 to 60 deputies on duty at the festival, which is almost everyone in his agency.

“It’s when we have such short notice that we physically can’t get the bodies here and we tell them that and get a permit it, that’s when bad things happen,” Whidden said.

Sheriff Whidden wants Evereonna Sankey’s family to know that his investigators won’t let her killer get away.

“Just want the family to know that we are working diligently on this and we are not going to stop until the person responsible or persons are in jail,” said Whidden.

Sheriff Whidden did say sheriff’s deputies will be prepared for upcoming events like the Juneteenth Celebration in Clewiston.

Hendry County Sheriff’s Office posted a message on the HCSO Facebook page asking people to share its post to submit any related photos or videos from the shooting. The post has a link to the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office – FL Evidence Submission Portal for submissions.

Reporter:Breana Ross
Writer:Drew Hill
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