As a caravan of emergency vehicles poured onto a quiet street in Western North Carolina on Wednesday morning, neighbors reported hearing bullets crack through the air.
The gunfire continued off and on for the next 13 hours in a small community just outside of Boone.
By the end of the day, five people were dead — including 25-year-old K-9 Deputy Logan Fox and 36-year-old Sgt. Chris Ward with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office.
Officials have released few details about what led up to the standoff. But on Thursday, the sheriff’s office identified the suspected shooter as 32-year-old Isaac Alton Barnes.
Barnes is accused of killing his mother, 61-year-old Michelle Annette Ligon, and his stepfather, 58-year-old George Wyatt Ligon. Barnes died at the scene, officials said.
Sheriff Len Hagaman said his office had received calls about Barnes on Sunday from family members concerned he “might try and do something.”
The man reportedly had a “fairly large cache of weapons,” and deputies were told to “be on the lookout,” Hagaman said.
“I’m convinced that the attitude of the suspect is such that he was planning this,” the sheriff said. “Not particularly with the officers but possibly the public in general.”
Just before 10 a.m. Wednesday, deputies were called to the home at 553 Hardaman Circle for a welfare check after the homeowner’s employer called to report he didn’t show up for work and hadn’t answered the phone, officials said.
When Fox and Ward arrived at the house, they saw the residents’ cars in the driveway and went inside.
Hagaman said he heard the call go out for a welfare check over the radio. The next thing he knew, he said, dispatchers were broadcasting “officer down.”
Officials said they had successfully extracted one deputy — later identified as Ward, an eight-year law enforcement veteran — who was flown to Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, where he died.
But Fox, who had been with the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office for two years, was still inside the house with the shooter.
A Boone police officer was also hit with gunfire during an initial rescue attempt but was not injured, according to officials. The bullet reportedly hit his ballistic helmet.
The shooter would “periodically” fire at officers who surrounded the house, the sheriff’s office said, until the standoff came to an end just before 11 p.m.
Rumors flew on social media as armored trucks and officers in ballistic vests swarmed the area, about 100 miles northwest of Charlotte. A medical helicopter hovered overhead, and a church parking lot where a vaccination event was being held quickly became a command center for the dozens of law enforcement agencies trickling in.
“The neighbors all checked on one another. We watched over our neighbor’s dog,” Bonnie Burton, who lives near the street where the shooting took place, said on Facebook. “People who were away from home couldn’t get back home. It was all topsy turvy.”
Burton shared pictures she took of the scene from her upstairs window. She said she heard gunfire at various points throughout the day — first around 11 a.m., then again just after noon.
“I heard a siren go by, and another siren go by. This is a pretty sleepy little place so I went to the front porch to see what was happening and just then I heard gunfire, and of course that was just terrifying,” she told Fox 46 in an interview Thursday. “And then I just watched emergency vehicles pile one after the other into the neighborhood. I don’t really know how our little neighborhood held all of the people who responded yesterday.”
Burton’s husband had to drive through their backyard to get home, she said, and a pair of neighbors from across the street took shelter with them when police officers banged on their door and ordered them to evacuate.
Clarence Wilson, 78, told The News Herald in Morganton he was sitting on his front porch when deputies arrived. He said he heard gunfire a short time later, and officers told him to go back inside.
Wilson described the area as a “real quiet neighborhood” with lots of retirees, The News Herald reported.
“We ain’t used to all this,” he told the newspaper.
‘Help us get through this’
Meanwhile, a staging area was set up about two miles away at Mount Vernon Baptist Church, WSOC reported. The Rev. Todd Houston told the TV station they were in the middle of hosting a vaccine clinic with a full parking lot when law enforcement showed up.
“We quickly had to turn the parking lot over,” he said.
More than a dozen police departments, sheriff’s offices and emergency responders in neighboring towns and counties responded. App State Police confirmed local law enforcement was investigating a shooting on Hardaman Circle — about six miles from the university — but there was no threat to campus.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team was also deployed from Charlotte with a team of chaplains and Mobile Ministry Center, WBTV reported.
“As the dozens upon dozens of law enforcement and rescue vehicles trickle past our house out of the neighborhood tonight, I think of what will come next as we try to understand how all of this happened and grieve those dear ones our community lost,” Burton said in her Facebook post just after midnight.
When television reporters asked Hagaman what message he had for the community on Thursday, he said, “Help us get through this. We will. I’m confident we’ll get through this — it’s just a pretty rocky road right now.”