Mourners fill NC town to honor slain prison officer

More than 500 mourners – including North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper – gathered in Edenton Thursday for the funeral of Sgt. Meggan Callahan, the prison officer who was killed inside Bertie Correctional Institution last week.

A horse-drawn caisson and military honor guard led the funeral procession. Atop the caisson, Callahan’s casket was draped with the American flag.

Callahan was responding to a fire set inside the Eastern North Carolina prison on April 26 when an inmate attacked and killed her, state officials say.

Inmate Craig Wissink, who is charged with first-degree murder in Callahan’s death, allegedly assaulted her with the fire extinguisher she’d brought to fight the trash can fire, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Safety.

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

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

Katie Overton, who had known Callahan since middle school, said that Callahan loved to make silly faces, joke and brighten her friends’ spirits.

“She loved to make people happy,” Overton said. “I didn’t know anyone who didn’t like her. She was one of those people you were just drawn to.”

Ron Perry, a former prison captain at Bertie who supervised Callahan, described her as smart, ambitious and quick-witted. “Once you met her, you were a friend,” Perry said. “She just had a love for life.”

The inmate accused of killing Callahan had “targeted” her, an investigator says.

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.”

Housing 1,500 inmates, Bertie is near the coast, more than 250 miles east of Charlotte.

Ames Alexander: 704-358-5060, @amesalex