A Florida man accused of trying to burn a 9-year-old boy he believed was demonically possessed, before hitting a sheriff’s deputy in the head with a metal rod, was shot dead on Tuesday, authorities said.

Firefighters responded just after 4 p.m. to reports of a burning pile of debris on the side of Bay Blossom Drive at the intersection of U.S. Route 98 in Sebring, the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office said.

The situation, however, was deemed suspicious, and deputies were called to help.

Responding deputies arrived and found 39-year-old Richard Myron Ham armed with two metal rods, according to authorities.

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Ham refused to comply with the deputies’ orders, at which point deputies used a Taser on him, though the sheriff’s office said that the Taser did not appear to have any effect.

“Ham pulled the Taser probes from his body and re-armed himself with one of the bars,” Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman said. “He then swung the metal rod and struck a deputy in the head.”

metal rod laying in road

Another deputy opened fire and struck Ham, officials said. Ham was rushed to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The injured deputy was treated at another hospital and released.

During an investigation, deputies learned that Ham and 30-year-old Lakenya Phillips were burning the possessions of Phillips’ 9-year-old son. 

Richard Myron Ham mugshot

Ham and Phillips believed the child “was possessed by a demon,” according to the sheriff’s office.

Witnesses told deputies that they saw Ham put the child into the fire and cover him with a blanket that was already burning. The sheriff’s office said the child was able to escape the flames and avoid serious injury.

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Phillips and the boy were both listed as missing and endangered in Wichita, Kansas, on Dec. 6, according to authorities. It was unclear when or why the pair came to Highlands County.

Deputies searched Ham and Phillips’ vehicle, finding multiple firearms and drugs inside, officials said without elaborating.

Ham had a criminal history that included convictions for armed felonies and drug possession and multiple arrests in Arkansas, South Carolina and Georgia.

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The incident remains under investigation.

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