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Officers, friends honor agent killed in Burke County

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    USDA Forest Service -
    U.S. Forest Service Officer Jason Crisp and his service dog Maros were both slain.
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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.
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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
    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.

Fellow officers and friends lined overpasses and highway shoulders across Western North Carolina on Thursday as the body of a U.S. Forest Service officer killed in the line of duty was brought home.

Jason Crisp, 38, was shot to death in Burke County on Wednesday along with a service dog, Maros, while approaching a homicide suspect. Troy David Whisnant, also 38, was suspected of killing his father and stepmother in their home.

Condolences and prayers poured in from around the country Thursday. By the early evening, a tribute page to Crisp on Facebook grew to 18,000 followers.

As a forestry officer, Crisp patrolled Pisgah National Forest looking for people damaging the environment or breaking laws. He was nearly always joined by service dog Maros, a friendly German shepherd. The pair were frequently called in to help find suspects throughout the region, spending as much as half of their time on searches.

He also frequently helped out sheriff’s deputies in surrounding counties.

“That’s the kind of person that Jason was, always willing to help, always willing to jump in and do whatever he could to help people in need,” said Michelle Burnett, public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

Crisp is the first U.S. Forest Service officer to be killed in the line of duty since 2010, and the eighth in the agency’s 109-year history, according to the nonprofit Officer Down Memorial Page.

Crisp started at the U.S. Forest Service as a timber marker before graduating from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in 2005, the agency said.

He was responsible for law enforcement, investigating calls and complaints in 190,000 acres spanning five counties in the Grandfather Ranger District: McDowell, Burke, Avery, Watauga and Caldwell.

In November, he investigated a wildfire in Linville Gorge that burned more than 2,600 acres.

Career in law enforcement

Crisp spent the majority of his career in law enforcement. He joined the McDowell County Sheriff’s Office part time in February 1997 and was hired for a full-time position in 1998. He spent the next six years there before leaving to join the U.S. Forest Service. He remained a reserve deputy in McDowell County, said Richelle Bailey, public information assistant with the Sheriff’s Office

“He was passionate about protecting and serving in a place where he grew up and a place where his kids were now growing up,” Bailey said.

Crisp was remembered as a devout Christian and a family man by friends and co-workers.

Glenna Wilson, a former colleague of Crisp’s and a longtime friend, described him as someone who was always there when someone needed him. 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.”

Gov. Pat McCrory spent Thursday afternoon with Crisp’s wife, Amanda, and law enforcement officers in the area.

Funeral arrangements have not been completed.

In 2010, U.S. Forest Service Officer Christopher Upton was shot and killed by a hunter who mistook him for game in the Ocmulgee Bluff Equestrian Recreation Area in Jasper County, Ga.

In North Carolina, park ranger Joseph David Kolodski, 36, was shot and killed June 21, 1998, after responding to a report of a man with a rifle threatening visitors at the Big Witch Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Kolodski had worked for the National Park Service for 13 years. He had served as an officer safety and defensive tactics instructor.

Researcher Maria David contributed.

Dunn: 704-358-5235; Twitter: @andrew_dunn

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