Melrose Woman Arrested for Domestic Violence Related Charges Involving Rifle Threat

Oct 6, 2015

Rebecca Barnhill-GriffisForty years old Rebecca Lee Barnhill-Griffis, of Melrose, was arrested Monday evening (10/05/15) after reportedly threatening two people with a rifle at her home. Barnhill-Griffis was booked into the Putnam County Jail without benefit of bond charged with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of domestic violence battery against her husband, 54 years old Tracy Griffis.

An investigation by Deputy Mark Juen revealed that Rebecca’s husband’s aunt, who is 85 years old, lives with them, and they have a visiting caretaker that helps take care of the aunt who is blind. The caretaker reported that when she arrived at the residence Monday evening, Rebecca and her husband were arguing and it appeared the situation was becoming dangerous. The caretaker decided to call 9-1-1, at which time Rebecca reportedly walked into a bedroom and reemerged with a rifle, pointing it at the caretaker. The caretaker was on the phone with the Sheriff’s Office and Rebecca walked back into the bedroom with the rifle.

During Deputy Juen’s investigation, he interviewed Rebecca’s husband, Tracy, who stated that Rebecca had slapped him and pointed the rifle at him also. Tracy was able to recover the rifle from Rebecca and also remove all of the firearms from the house. Deputy Juen took Rebecca Barnhill-Griffis into custody without further incident. She is charged with one count of aggravated assault with a weapon against the caretaker, one count of aggravated assault with a weapon against her husband and one count of domestic violence battery against her husband. Deputy Juen also recovered the rifle used to threaten the two victims.

Search On for Youth, Missing in Wooded Area

Oct 5, 2015

Update to the release below regarding nine years old Brandon Varnes that was reported missing earlier today. Brandon was spotted in the wooded area behind his home at about 3:30 p.m. by Air One, a helicopter belonging to the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office. Brandon was in great shape and was reunited with his family.

Brandon had been the focus of a day long search after he walked away from his home this morning. Resources from various agencies were involved, and canine units had been able to track him off and on throughout the day. His discovery and return home has enabled all of the people involved in the search to breathe a sigh of relief.


Brandon Varnes Law enforcement assets from around the area have descended on Putnam County this morning to assist in locating Brandon Dalton Varnes, a nine years old youth that is missing from his home in a rural area of Putnam County. According to the on-scene commander, Captain Joseph Wells, Brandon walked out of the back door of his house at about 7:30 a.m. and walked into a wooded area that encompasses approximately 30 acres of woods. A younger sibling saw him leave, but did not notify Brandon’s parents for nearly two hours. Brandon is familiar with the area, but has not yet been located.

Canine teams and ATV teams from the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, Fish and Wildlife Commission, Department of Corrections and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement are on scene to help in the search. In addition, a helicopter from the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office is checking the area.

Brandon has been reported missing in these same woods before, with the last time being in August of 2014. According to Brandon’s family, they were at home at the time he went missing, but did not realize he was gone and call the Sheriff’s Office until nearly two hours after he had left.

The search is continuing as the canine units have been able to follow some tracks and what are believed to be Brandon’s footprints are discovered periodically. The canine units have so far followed his track for nearly two and one half miles through the woods.

Palatka Man Charged in Birdshot Shooting

Oct 5, 2015

Nicholas McNeilForty seven years old Nicholas Shannon McNeil was arrested late Saturday night (10/03/15 at about 11:59 p.m.) after he reportedly shot two of his neighbors with birdshot from a .410 shotgun. McNeil was booked into the Putnam County Jail, and released after posting $5,008.00 bond.

The initial investigation by Deputy Sean Baccus revealed that 46 years old Denver Blankenship and his 17 years old son, both of Palatka, were in the process of putting away an ATV (all terain vehicle) at about 11:00 p.m. Saturday night at their Moccasin Creek Drive home. While the son was unlocking a gate to drive from their front yard to a shed in the back yard, the pair heard a shot ring out. Denver Blankenship was struck in the back by the birdshot, and his son was struck in his left wrist, right forearm and left side of his ribs. Neither victim required Emergency Medical Services. Neither victim saw who shot at them, but told Deputy Baccus that they have had “ongoing issues” with McNeil who lives across the road.

A follow up investigation by Detective Marcus Phillips revealed that although McNeil initially denied shooting the pair, a .410 shotgun was found inside his house. McNeil voluntarily accompanied Detective Phillips to the Sheriff’s Office for an interview. Following that interview he was booked into the Putnam County Jail charged with two counts of aggravated battery.

Cyber Café Reportedly Robbed at Gunpoint

Oct 5, 2015

Two armed gunman are reported to have robbed an employee of Roger Womack’s Cyber Café, on Carter Road in Palatka, early Saturday morning (10/03/15 at about 2:00 a.m.). An initial investigation by Deputy Michael Wells indicated that the employee was in the process of leaving the business when she was confronted in the parking lot by the two masked gunmen. The employee reported that the men forced her back inside the business at gunpoint.

Once inside, the robbers were able to seize an undetermined amount of money before demanding the business employee’s car keys. After forcing the employee to lie on the floor, the two robbers reportedly fled from the business in the employee’s green 1998 Honda Civic. The employee was not harmed during the incident.

The robbers are described as two black males, both approximately six feet tall, slim build, wearing dark long sleeved shirts, dark pants and dark masks over their faces. The investigation is being continued by the Criminal Investigation Division of the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.

Apparent Murder/Suicide Being Investigated

Oct 4, 2015

Jessica Mock Palatka, FL: On Sunday, October 4, 2015, Putnam County Deputies responded to a shooting in the 2500 block of Westover Drive.

Deputies and investigators on scene believe the shooting, an apparent murder/suicide, to be domestc violence related.

Those involved are Jessica Leigh Mock, 28, of Florahome and Derrick Lamar Louis, 20, of Palatka. Mock was transported to Shands Hospital in Gainesville and later died from the gunshot. Louis was pronounced dead at the scene.

There was no photo of Louis immediately available.

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