Inmate ‘targeted’ sergeant who was killed in NC prison, investigator says

The inmate accused of attacking and killing Sgt. Meggan Callahan inside a North Carolina prison last week had “targeted” her, an investigator says.

Inmate Craig Wissink, who is charged with first-degree murder in Callahan’s death, is accused of beating the sergeant with a fire extinguisher that she’d brought to douse a fire inside Bertie Correctional Institution.

Investigators believe Wissink set the fire in a trash can in a common area used by medium-custody inmates, according to Anthony Jernigan, who heads the State Bureau of Investigation office that covers northeastern North Carolina.

Then, state officials say, the inmate hit Callahan with the fire extinguisher. Jernigan said the inmate struck her “multiple” times.

“It was violent and deliberate,” Jernigan said. “I think it’s safe to say he did target her. It wasn’t random.”

Jernigan did not say why investigators believe Wissink targeted Callahan.

Preliminary autopsy results show that Callahan was “fatally beaten,” Jernigan said.

In a 911 call made following the attack, a prison officer told a dispatcher that an officer was down, suffering from a “contusion to the head.” About eight minutes earlier, in the first 911 call made from the prison, another officer mistakenly told a dispatcher that “we have an inmate down.”

Wissink, who has been serving a life sentence for murder since 2004, on Monday made his first court appearance in connection with Callahan’s death.

Two other officers were nearby when Callahan was attacked, Jernigan said. One fell and hurt her knee when she went to Callahan’s defense, Jernigan said.

About 60 inmates were also nearby, Jernigan said.

“None of them are involved in the assault or coming to her aid either,” said Jernigan, who watched a prison surveillance video that captured the attack.

State prison officials have rejected the Observer’s request for a copy of that video, saying it contains “sensitive public security information.”

The SBI agents who’ve been investigating the case have interviewed more than 60 inmates as well as several prison officers, Jernigan said.

A dangerous job

Callahan was hired to work for the prisons in 2012 and was promoted to sergeant four years later.

Friends and acquaintances described her as a popular, hard-working officer who loved to make others laugh.

She had a dangerous job. Once every eight hours, on average, a North Carolina prison officer was assaulted last year.

It has been seven years since the last North Carolina prison officer died as a result of an inmate assault.

In November 2009, officer Edward Pounds received a neck injury during an assault by an inmate at Neuse Correctional Institution, southeast of Raleigh. He died about two months later as a result of an injury to an artery in his neck, a medical examiner found. The inmate who assaulted him was later convicted of manslaughter.

The dangers are most acute at Bertie and at the state’s other large, maximum security prisons. Housing 1,500 inmates, Bertie is near the coast, more than 250 miles east of Charlotte.

Wissink received a life sentence for the shooting of John Lawrence Pruey during an attempted robbery in Fayetteville in June 2000. He was convicted nearly four years later.

Prosecutors in the 2004 trial said that Wissink and Lawrence Lee Ash went to Pruey’s home planning to rob him; each defendant contended the other pulled the trigger.

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex

Fund to help Callahan’s family

The Police Benevolent Foundation has set up an account where people can make donations to help the family of Sgt. Meggan Callahan, who was killed inside a North Carolina prison last week.

People can make donations to the “Meggan Callahan Memorial Fund” through the account link on the Police Benevolent Foundation's website at www.pbfi.org.

All donations made to this memorial fund are tax-deductible, and 100 percent of the money will go to Callahan’s family, the PBF says.