2 North Carolina deputies killed, 3 others dead after 'ambush' during welfare check led to 13-hour standoff
Watauga County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Chris Ward and K-9 Deputy Logan Fox both died
Two North Carolina sheriff's deputies were killed and three other people found dead in what authorities are calling an ambush that turned into a 13-hour standoff between a shooter and law enforcement.
Two deputies have died from their injuries suffered during the standoff that took place at a home near Boone, located about 116 miles northwest of Charlotte, Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman confirmed Thursday morning.
Three civilians – including the suspected shooter – also died, bringing the death toll to five people.
Sheriff Hagaman said that it was fair to say that deputies were "ambushed" at the home when they arrived to conduct a welfare check.
K-9 Deputy Logan Fox died at the scene, Watauga County Sheriff’s Department also confirmed in a statement to Fox News on Thursday. Sgt. Chris Ward died after being flown to Johnson City Medical Center for treatment.
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Hagaman said that another law enforcement member, a Boone Police officer who participated in an initial rescue attempt, was shot in the head – but his protective helmet saved him from injury.
"Our hearts are broken for our law enforcement partners at the Watauga County Sheriff's Office. There are no words to explain the sorrow the #FBI family feels for you," the FBI Charlotte Field Office said in a statement Thursday morning. "We continue to be thankful for the men and women who put themselves in harm's way to protect our communities."
The sheriff’s office declined to identify the civilians by name at this time. The individual suspected of killing the two officers is also suspected of killing two civilians in the residence, according to the agency.
The deceased civilians are a stepfather, mother and her son, WSOC-TV reported. It's unclear who was the suspected shooter.
What began as a welfare check devolved into violence at 9:44 a.m. Wednesday when Watauga County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at a home in the 500 block of Hardaman Circle in Boone. The homeowner's employer had called to report that the homeowner had not reported to work that morning and was not answering the phone.
Deputies entered the house after discovering all vehicles belonging to the residents were on the property, the sheriff’s office said. Upon entering the home, two Watauga County Sheriff’s deputies were shot and had gunshot wounds from an unknown individual within the residence. The standoff between the armed individual and law enforcement ended before 11 p.m. Wednesday.
"This is an incredibly tragic situation and our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved as well as their families and our community," Sheriff Hagaman said in a statement Wednesday night. "I greatly appreciate the tremendous support we are receiving from law enforcement agencies across the region and the state."
In a previous update at 9 p.m., the sheriff's department said Ward had been airlifted to the hospital and succumbed to his injuries, but Fox was still inside the home at that time as an armed person continued to "periodically" fire at police who have surrounded the building and evacuated the neighborhood.
Images posted to a Facebook profile under Ward’s name and job description show a collection of black-banded police badges in honor of other deputies who were killed in the line of duty in the state. One of them was fellow Watauga County Sheriff’s Deputy William Ronald Mast Jr., 23, who was ambushed while responding to a call in 2012.
Under a recent photo of himself in uniform, Ward's friends commented, "Be careful please," and "Love you buddy be safe."
There was a procession down Highway 421 early Thursday in honor of Ward.
Flags were lowered to half-staff outside the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, WSOC-TV reported, and a memorial of candles, flowers and photos was growing outside the building.
Neighbors who had been evacuated were reportedly cleared to return home before midnight.
Law enforcement agencies from across the state arrived Wednesday to lend their support to the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, including state police and SWAT operators, officers from multiple departments and deputies from neighboring counties. North Carolina’s State Bureau of Investigation took over the scene Wednesday night.
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Residents had been warned to close and lock their doors and windows and shelter inside.
Video from the scene showed that police had blocked off Chapel Hills Road. Authorities had converted a nearby parking lot at Mount Vernon Baptist Church into a mobile command center as they worked to secure the area. Rev. Todd Houston said the church parking lot was hosting a coronavirus vaccine clinic early Wednesday when the standoff began and more law enforcement arrived.
Photos also showed deputies bow their heads in prayer at the scene of the standoff as it was ongoing.
The nearby Mount Vernon school also ordered a lockdown, although parents were allowed to pick up their children.
Police said they evacuated nearby residents and surrounded the home.
Law enforcement agencies who supported the Watauga County Sheriff’s Department at the scene included Appalachian State University 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.
Fox News' Emmett Jones contributed to this report.