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Tributes pour in for slain U.S. Forest Service officer

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    USDA Forest Service -
    Officer Jason Crisp and dog Maros from Forest Service.
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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Crime-scene tape hangs at the entrance to the home on Fish Hatchery Road near Morganton where Rhonda and Levi Whisnant were found dead Wednesday morning. Police suspect their son, Troy, who was shot by law enforcement officers after a manhunt Wednesday afternoon.
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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Crime scene tape hangs at the entrance to the home on Fish Hatchery Rd. in Burke County where two people were murdered by the slain gunman Wednesday afternoon.
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    JEFF WILLHELM - jwillhelm@charlotteobserver.com
    Law enforcement officers gather at Mountain Grove United Methodist Church, where the command center was set up Wednesday for investigation of the Fish Hatchery Road incident that resulted in four dead. Rhonda and Levi Whisnant were found dead in their Fish Hatchery Road home on Wednesday morning. Police suspect their son, Troy, who was shot by law enforcement officers after a manhunt Wednesday afternoon. Troy Whisnant is also accused of shooting a U.S. Forestry officer who approached him.

MORGANTON Tributes are pouring in online for a U.S. Forest Service officer who was shot and killed along with his search dog while pursuing a suspect in a double slaying near Morganton.

Officer Jason Crisp, 39, of Marion, and his dog, Maros, were gunned down around 3 p.m. Wednesday as they approached Troy David Whisnant, 38, suspected of killing his stepmother and father, Rhonda and Levi Whisnant.

Glenna Wilson, a former colleague of Crisp's and a long-time friend, described him as devout Christian and family man. When Wilson, 69, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, Crisp prayed with her every morning, Wilson said. Though Wilson left the U.S. Forest Service office in 2011, Crisp would still check on her regularly.

"Jason drives by occasionally, and every time he did, he’d blow the horn and throw a hand out at me," she said. "He was just somebody that you met and you liked."

A Facebook page memorializing Crisp and his dog, Maros, had drawn 14,000 followers by noon Thursday at http://on.fb.me/1i88ihV.

“Officer Crisp was always a professional, a gentleman, and a welcoming individual,” Mark Bowen posted on the page.

Bowen said Crisp assisted him with the issue of poachers on his family’s property in Pisgah National Forest.

“Officer Crisp seemed to genuinely love his work, serving the public interest,” Bowen said. “I am truly saddened by his passing. Rest in Peace, Jason.”

“We, the U.S. Forest Service, lost a wonderful officer and K9 yesterday,” wrote Shenee Earle, Crisp’s program assistant. “He was also a good husband, good dad and friend. Jason, I will miss you like no other.”

Gov. Pat McCrory was headed to Burke County on Thursday afternoon to visit Crisp’s wife and first responders to the shootings, spokesman Ryan Tronovitch said.

Around 9 a.m. Wednesday, investigators were called to the Whisnants’ house on Fish Hatchery Road to check their welfare. There, deputies found their bodies.

The Whisnants’ house is in a heavily wooded, mountainous area, where homes are spaced far apart.

As the investigation went on, the N.C. Highway Patrol notified investigators that two cars had been reported stolen and may have been connected to their case.

More than 100 officers from about a half-dozen agencies joined in the manhunt.

Sheriff Steve Whisenant said after discovering the Whisnants’ bodies, police began to suspect Troy Whisnant, a felon who had spent time in prison. The sheriff said the manhunt focused on an area a mile in diameter from the house. Searchers found one of the stolen vehicles abandoned near Old Tabletop Road.

“We thought that we had him confined. We set up roadblocks on all the arteries, and we pretty much had him confined to a mile radius,” the sheriff said.

After Troy Whisnant shot Crisp and his dog, the sheriff said, Whisnant took the officer’s gun and kept running.

Shortly afterward, he was approached by an Avery County sheriff’s deputy and two state troopers. They told him to drop the weapon, the sheriff said. Whisnant fired one shot, and at least one officer returned fire, killing him.

At a news conference on Thursday morning, the sheriff said Whisnant is believed to have been hiding behind a tree and ambushed Crisp, according to WSOC-TV.

“I don’t think the U.S. Forestry officer ever saw the suspect,” the sheriff said at the news conference, according to WCNC-TV.

The sheriff said he believed the suspect was high on crack cocaine, the station reported.

The Burke County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the killings of Rhonda and Levi Whisnant. The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the suspect’s death. The FBI is investigating Crisp’s killing.

The sheriff said he did not know a motive. He said Troy Whisnant used to live at his parents’ house but had moved out.

According to N.C. Department of Correction records, Troy Whisnant was released from prison in July after serving 11 months on a receiving stolen property charge. In the late 1990s, he served a year in prison for manslaughter.

STAFF WRITERS ANDREW DUNN and MICHAEL GORDON AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS CONTRIBUTED.

Wootson: 704-358-5046; Twitter: @CleveWootson
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