WATAUGA COUNTY, N.C. — Two deputies were killed and three other people, including the gunman, were found dead after a 13-hour standoff in Boone on Wednesday, the Watauga County sheriff said.
Authorities said the two deputies died in the shooting that prompted a daylong standoff Wednesday that dragged into the night with law enforcement officers surrounding a home.
Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman said two deputies, as well as the suspect and the suspect’s mother, Michelle Ligon, 61, and stepfather, George Ligon, 58, had died.
The sheriff identified the gunman as 32-year-old Isaac Alton Barnes. Officials believe he died by suicide.
Hagaman said Sgt. Chris Ward and K-9 Deputy Logan Fox, along with another deputy, were dispatched to a home on Hardaman Circle at 9:44 a.m. Wednesday after the homeowner and his family didn’t report to work or answer telephone calls. Officials said deputies entered the house after seeing all the family’s vehicles were still on the property.
When they went into the house, both Ward and Fox were hit by gunfire. Hagaman said the third responding deputy was able to escape unharmed.
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Other officers were able to pull Ward out.
Hagaman said Ward died at a hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, where he was taken after being removed from the house. Fox was shot and remained in the home throughout the ensuing standoff, Hagaman said.
The sheriff confirmed on Thursday that Fox died at the scene.
Hagaman said a Boone police officer, a Boone firefighter and an App State police officer also came under fire as they tried to rescue the wounded deputies. The Boone police officer was hit by gunfire, but was not injured since the bullet hit his Kevlar helmet, the sheriff said.
Hagaman said that deputies had been to the home over the weekend but did not elaborate. On Wednesday, deputies were sent to the home to check on the suspect’s mother and stepfather, but Hagaman said they did not expect the shooter to be there.
“The individual suspected of killing the two officers is also suspected of killing two civilians in the residence,” the sheriff’s office said in a release.
Law enforcement agencies from across the Carolinas have posted tributes to the fallen deputies.
Officials said the standoff ended shortly before 11 p.m. on Wednesday.
Channel 9 was there just after midnight as a procession made its way down Highway 421 for one of the fallen deputies. Dozens of people, including first responders and residents, gathered to honor him.
On Friday morning, a law enforcement procession was held for Fox in Boone as his body was taken from to a hospital in Winston-Salem.
A few hours later, another procession that traveled from Winston Salem to Boone was held in honor of both officers. Dozens of people lined the streets as a hearse and SUV carried the bodies of Fox and Ward to Austin and Barnes Funeral Home.
“We shouldn’t have to go through this”
The sheriff told Channel 9 that he and his deputies are devastated by the deaths of two of their own.
He said the deputies who died are part of a tight-knit family and how much they loved law enforcement.
“We shouldn’t have to go through this,” Hagaman said. “Once was devastating, but this is just unreal. It’s just -- I can’t put it into words. The saving grace though is the community has come together in support, both mentally, physically, spiritually. And so, we certainly want to let the community know that we know they love us.”
The sheriff also spoke about the initial call for a welfare check at the home.
“You know, he was waiting for the officers,” Hagaman said. “We had had an issue with him over the weekend.”
When asked if he believed his deputies were ambushed, the sheriff said, “No doubt. No doubt at all.”
Neighbor Jacob Shook lives just down the street from where the sheriff says Ward and Fox were ambushed. Shook told Channel 9 that he will never forget seeing one of the deputies wave at him as he passed by the home.
“Terrible. I thought I was waving at him and would see him again,” he said. “I feel for him. I feel for the family. I hate that it happened.”
All morning long, Channel 9 saw people stopping by the law enforcement memorial outside the Sheriff’s Office, including family members, friends and complete strangers who didn’t know the deputies but wanted to show that they care.
“They had the compassion for the community and doing the right thing, and they did that,” Hagaman said when asked about the fallen deputies’ passion for law enforcement. “They didn’t expect this, but they were doing the right thing.”
Flags at the sheriff’s office were lowered to half-staff Thursday morning and a growing memorial was set up outside.
Channel 9 reporter Anthony Kustura spoke with Donna Ward, a relative of Chris Ward, Thursday morning at the memorial, where she dropped off a flag and a blue bow. She said the whole family is devastated.
“It’s hard. I know God’s got another angel,” Donna Ward said. “A very loving family, loving. He would do anything for you.”
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team arrived at the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday morning to help those grieving.
Deputies may have prevented more violence
On Thursday afternoon, Hagaman said family members had expressed concerns about the large number of weapons in Barnes’ possession. The sheriff added that he believed Barnes may have been contemplating an attack in public.
“There was familial concern that he might try to do something and he had evidently a fairly large cache of weapons and he was at the house, which we didn’t think he would be,” the sheriff said.
He said deputies had been warned that the suspect was having some issues, but when they were called to the home for a welfare check on the suspect’s mother and stepfather, they had no idea the shooter was there.
The sheriff said it was clear that his deputies were ambushed in a stairwell inside the home. He said three deputies responded to the initial welfare check call. When Ward and Fox were shot, the third deputy was able to escape to safety.
Hagaman said investigators found that the suspect had “a lot” of guns but could not say exactly how many.
The sheriff also eluded that his deputies may have prevented a larger-scale act of violence against not only law enforcement, but the community, saying he believes the suspect had some sort of plan.
“It was not a manifesto but it was, like, ‘I need to do this,’” Hagaman said.
When asked to elaborate on what that meant, the sheriff said, “taking people out.”
“I’m convinced that the attitude of the suspect was such that he was planning this, not particularly at the officers, but possibly the public in general,” Hagaman said. “The officers, they thought they were going into one situation, and the perpetrator, the suspect was there. The deputies took the brunt for the public.”
(WATCH: Watauga County sheriff speaks about shooting that claimed life of 2 deputies)
Neighborhood evacuated, witnesses describe hearing gunshots
As more officers descended on the house, authorities quickly turned the parking lot at Mount Vernon Baptist Church into a mobile command center.
The Rev. Todd Houston told Channel 9 reporter DaShawn Brown they were holding a vaccine clinic when the standoff unfolded.
“We had a full parking lot, and we quickly had to turn the parking lot over,” Houston said. “We have a Christian school here. We had to lock it down because we were just uncertain of the nature of the threat earlier on.”
Authorities said the standoff continued throughout the afternoon and into the night, with the shooter barricaded in a section of the house. They said the shooter would periodically fire in the direction of officers.
“This is an incredibly tragic situation and our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved as well as their families and our community,” said Hagaman. “I greatly appreciate the tremendous support we are receiving from law enforcement agencies across the region and the state.”
Officials said law enforcement had the home surrounded and that nearby residents were evacuated.
Neighbors in the area were ordered to shelter in place. They received an alert saying to stay in their homes with their doors and windows closed.
Eyewitnesses described hearing gunfire around 9 a.m. Wiley Brown told Channel 9′s Dave Faherty he was getting ready to cut his grass when he heard the shots coming from down the road.
“I had just walked out in the yard and heard ‘Bang, bang, bang, bang,’” Brown said. “I really didn’t know what it was.”
Gloria Eggers said she lives down the road from the shooting investigation. She said her son-in-law is in law enforcement and is praying for everyone involved.
“Our world is in a bad situation right now and police officers have it really bad,” Eggers said.
From Chopper 9 Skyzoom, we could see more than a dozen emergency vehicles responding to the scene, including at least three ambulances. Our crew also saw a medical helicopter near the scene.
Earlier in the day, App State police said local law enforcement was investigating a shooting in the area, but said there was no threat to App State’s campus.
Law enforcement agencies from all over the state, including several SWAT teams, came to support the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, including: Appalachian State University’s Police, Avery County Sheriff’s Office, Beech Mountain Police, Blowing Rock Police, Boone Police, Caldwell County Sheriff’s Office, Henderson County Sheriff’s Office, Hickory Police, Morganton Public Safety, North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement, North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, North Carolina State Highway Patrol, Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office, West Jefferson Police and Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office.
The SBI took over the scene Wednesday night.
This is an ongoing investigation. Check back with wsoctv.com for updates.