​'We have a mass casualty incident.' First responders on deaths of 4 NC prison workers.

Four prison employees were killed during an attempted escape at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City, N.C.
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Four prison employees were killed during an attempted escape at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City, N.C.
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Crime

As toll climbs, NC prison attack now ranks as one of the deadliest in U.S. history

November 02, 2017 09:16 PM

A fourth prison employee – maintenance mechanic Geoffrey Howe – has died as a result of injuries suffered during the Oct. 12 escape attempt at Pasquotank Correctional Institution.

The incident at Pasquotank, which also injured eight other employees, now ranks as one of the deadliest prison disturbances in U.S. history.

Howe, 31, died Thursday at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Va.

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Geoffrey Howe
N.C. Department of Public Safety

“Geoffrey Howe was a valued member of his community and his workplace, and he will be greatly missed,” Gov. Roy Cooper said Thursday night. “We send our heartfelt sympathies to his loved ones and wish for them comfort during this difficult time.

“We owe it to Geoffrey and his fallen coworkers to do all we can to keep an attack like the one that claimed their lives from ever happening inside our prisons again, and that’s what I’ve directed prison leaders to do,” Cooper said.

Correctional officers Justin Smith and Wendy Shannon, and Correction Enterprises sewing plant manager Veronica Darden also died as a result of injuries from the attack.

Howe celebrated his one-year anniversary with the Department of Public Safety in August.

“Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to the Howe family,” Department of Public Safety Secretary Erik Hooks said. “This tragedy has horribly impacted the lives of four families, as well as co-workers and friends.”

The assaults at the Eastern North Carolina prison also injured eight other employees.

Four inmates were charged with first-degree murder in the attacks.

Law enforcement authorities said the inmates were working in the prison’s sewing plant when they tried to carry out the escape plan.

The inmates beat employees with hammers and stabbed them with scissors, according to prison workers who called 911.

One of the inmates charged in the attacks was in prison for shooting a state trooper in the face. Another had repeatedly stabbed an Army sergeant’s wife with a kitchen knife. A third was incarcerated for shooting a co-worker to death behind a west Charlotte gas station.

Some current and former prison officers questioned whether the inmates with violent histories should have been put to work in a sewing plant, where they would have access to potentially lethal tools.

Just one officer – Justin Smith – was overseeing the more than 30 inmates in the sewing plant when the violence erupted, sources told the Observer.

In October, more than 30 percent of the officer positions at the prison were vacant, state Department of Public Safety records show.

The prison continues to be on lockdown. Members of the prison emergency response team from other state prison facilities continue to assist Pasquotank staff.

Pasquotank Correctional Institution houses 676 male inmates in close, medium and minimum custody.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex

Gavin Off: 704-358-6038