WATAUGA COUNTY, N.C. - A deputy was fatally shot after responding to a call early Thursday morning, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office said.
The sheriff's office said deputies responded to a house on Hardin Road, in the Deep Gap area of Watauga County, because of an open 911 call. That means someone called 911 but never said anything and didn't hang up.
When the first deputy arrived, investigators say someone opened fire. Deputy William Mast Jr., 23, was shot and killed around 1 a.m., officials said.
“The first reaction is you hope it is wrong, that what you are hearing isn't true,” said Sgt. Shane Robbins with Boone Police. “But sadly it was, and it is just heartbreaking.”
A second deputy who arrived at the scene at nearly the same time returned fire, hitting and killing the suspect.
Investigators are not releasing the man's name, but some neighbors, like a man who asked not to be identified, said he knew him and was stunned to learn what happened.
“He was just an old country boy who rode four-wheelers,” he said. “He's just a real good guy. I don't know what happened. I really don't.”
Brent Beach has been delivering mail in the area for more than 20 years and said he often saw the people living at the home where the shootings happened.
“I would occasionally wave at them, and they would wave back,” Beach said.
He said it is a close-knit community.
“This hurts me,” Beach said. “Both the shooter and the deputy live on my mail route. The deputy's mother-in-law was a high school classmate of mine, so it hurts.”
Ponza Matheson, a family friend who lived next to Mast's family for 15 years, said the community lost a good deputy, friend, husband and soon-to-be father.
"He would have been a great daddy," she said. "Everybody just loved him and it's just a tragedy."
She said she spoke with Mast's aunt and that she, like the rest of the family, is devastated.
"She can't talk right now," she said. "She's just speechless. They're all just in shock. They don't know what to think. They can't believe it."
She said Mast was expecting his first child, a baby boy, with his wife Paige.
Matheson said Mast loved motorcycles, spending time outside, and even tried bull-riding for a while.
"He loved his four-wheelers and his motorcycles and he loved to soup up his truck," she said.
She said that Mast was special -- that even after becoming a deputy and facing crime every day, he was still always approachable and kind.
"He was very humble and he always respected everyone all the time, very respectful," she said.
Matheson said it's hard to believe how a 911 call could so quickly take him away.
"You know, when people go out on these domestic calls, what they're faced with -- in a split second, their lives can be over with," she said.