A text alert said that three prison officers are “down” after an attempted prison break in North Carolina. The incident was first reported at the Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City on October 12 at around 3:30 p.m. Authorities first got a call about the attempted escape at 3:08 p.m. An alert said that “Possible prison break… Fire… Attempted escape… Officers down.” The North Carolina Public Safety Twitter account said that a fire had been set in the prison’s sewing plant prior to the escape attempt.
It was later confirmed that two prison employees had been killed during the incident. They have been named as Justin Smith, 35, a prison officer, and Veronica Darden, 50, a prison employee.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Prison Has an All-Male Population of 896; Though the Population Was 729 at the Time of the Escape Attempt
The prison is located at 527 Commerce Drive in Elizabeth City, about 170 miles east of Raleigh. Government records show that there is an all-male prison population of 896 at the facility as well as 410 staff. It’s unclear how many of those staff are on duty at a given time. It has been open since March 1996.
According to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, there were 729 inmates in the prison on October 12. The department said at 5:20 p.m. local time that the “situation” was under control.
2. Reports Indicate That 2 Prison Guards Have Died
You can listen to local emergency service scanner traffic here. That traffic indicated that the escape was not successful. At least one officer is thought to have been hit with a hammer. Three people were transported from the scene. One female was said to be unresponsive. The other two victims are males aged between 40s and 50s. Later, it was reported that two people had died as a result of injuries received.
A Sentara Healthcare spokesman Peter Sengenberger told WVEC that six people have been taken the Sentara Albemarle Medical Center. Sengenberger says their conditions are unknown. He added that the family of the wounded are asked to avoid the hospital. The number of injured people at the hospital was later increased to 14.
3. All Prison Staff Have Been Asked to ‘Go to the Prison’
WAVY’s Joe Fisher reports that “all sworn officers” were asked to “go to the prison,” according to a leaked memo. The memo reads in part, “If you have a gun and badge, go to the prison. There is a critical situation, a fire, officers jumping the wall, and three officers are down.”
There are reports that Pasquotank County Schools were on lockdown in the midst of the attempted escape. Those schools were Pasquotank High School, Northside Elementary and Elizabeth City Middle School. The lockdown was lifted at around 5 p.m. on October 12 although after school activities were canceled.
4. The Prison Has Previously Been in the News in 2017
The prison was in the news twice in 2017 already. In February 2017, a prison employee, Justin Casper, was found to bringing marijuana and other contraband into the prison, according to WAVY. While in April 2017, inmate Trenton Hodge, 29, was stabbed multiple times by a fellow prisoner. Hodge survived with superficial injuries, reports WTKR.
5. Minimum Security Inmates at the Prison Are Permitted to Work Outside of the Facility
Prison Pro says that minimum security inmates at Pasquotank Correctional Institution can “work on community work squads, on road cleanup crews and for country recycling.” While inmates can also study for their GED while at the prison. WVEC reports that 30 inmates work at the sewing room where the fire was first set on October 12. The NCDPS says that the sewing room is operated by Correction Enterprises.