’We have a mass casualty incident.’ First responders on deaths of 4 NC prison workers.
Two employees had already been fatally wounded when four inmates sprinted from a prison warehouse – they hoped – toward freedom.
But by now, their plan had fallen apart.
Amid the chaos of the deadliest prison escape attempt in North Carolina history, Scott Stormer and about a dozen other officers had the inmates backed up against a fence at Pasquotank Correctional Institution.
Stormer told the Observer how officers tried to make them surrender:
“Hey guys, it’s over,” officers yelled.
Stormer heard this reply:
“You’ll have to kill me.”
While fighting an inmate, Stormer was struck. It felt like someone had punched him in the back. It was worse than that. Blood was staining his shirt.
The violence on Oct. 12 at the prison in eastern N.C. claimed the lives of two prison workers, and left Stormer, 46, with three stab wounds in his back.
In an interview with the Observer, Stormer revealed new details about the deadly escape attempt that killed prison workers Veronica Darden and Justin Smith and injured 10 more staff members – two of them critically.
Afterward, state officials shuttered the prison’s sewing plant – where the inmates began their escape – and launched widespread reviews of prison safety. Others asked whether top leaders should be held accountable, and, on Monday, the state’s top prison leader stepped down from his post.
Four inmates – Jonathan Monk, Wisezah Buckman, Mikel Brady and Seth Frazier – have been charged with first-degree murder.
Stormer, now recovering from his wounds, said their escape attempt began with a diversion: a fire.
The plan unfolds
Pasquotank’s sewing plant, where inmates embroidered logos and safety vests for government agencies and nonprofits, sits above the prison’s warehouse, connected by an elevator. From there, it’s a short sprint to an outside loading dock.
Several fences, most lined with razor wire, separate the dock from a nearby farm in the rural community just south of the Virginia border.
Stormer said Smith, the only correctional officer in the plant, was watching more than 30 inmates when the escape began.
Darden, the plant operations manager, was also there.
The inmates were armed with scissors as they broke out of the sewing plant and made their way to the warehouse, Stormer said. There, they ran into maintenance worker Geoffrey Howe and correctional officers Wendy Shannon and George Midgett.
In a 911 call made from the prison, a maintenance worker painted a picture of the mayhem. There was a fire, he said. At least three officers were down, apparently beaten with hammers and stabbed with scissors.
At one point, the caller could be heard telling another person at the prison to be ready for an attack.
“We all need to get together and be ready to fight,” the man said. “I’ve got me a hammer out. I’m ready.”
To delay the responding officers, Stormer said, the inmates made a fake call over the radio system, claiming an inmate disturbance on the opposite end of the prison. Stormer and a swarm of officers showed up at a closed-custody unit far from the sewing plant.
“They were leading us on a wild goose chase to give them another minute to get out,” Stormer said.
Then, Stormer heard the alarm for a fire near the warehouse.
He and about five other officers sprinted that way. They saw Midgett on the warehouse floor, bleeding and holding his head, Stormer said.
The inmates were running toward the outside loading dock.
‘You’ll have to kill me’
That’s when officers surrounded inmates against the fence separating the loading dock area from a prison yard.
Slowly, the officers approached.
Stormer said Monk, in prison for attempted murder, tried to push past him. Stormer hit him in the leg with his baton and pepper sprayed him.
Then, another inmate stabbed him – likely with scissors or a screw driver, Stormer said. Stormer fell to the ground. He said a second officer, who struck the inmate with a baton to stop the stabbing, likely saved his life.
Monk, Stormer said, was captured quickly.
Buckman, who was serving 32 years for second-degree murder, tried to scale the fence but was caught hanging upside down on the other side, tangled in razor wire.
Stormer pepper sprayed Buckman, who fell and ran a short a short distance before officers handcuffed him, too.
‘Shoot me. Shoot me’
Inmates Frazier, serving time for burglary, and Brady, convicted of attempted murder, ran across the yard to the prison’s two perimeter fences, Stormer said. They squeezed through a roll of razor wire and made it to the final fence when a correctional officer and other law enforcement showed up in vehicles.
An officer fired a warning shot, Stormer said.
Frazier surrendered. Then Brady did, too.
At about that time, Stormer noticed blood soaking through his shirt. That night, he spent five hours at Albemarle Medical Center, where doctors stitched up his wounds.
Doctors told Stormer that they are healing nicely.
Stormer, retired from the Army, said he knows that his wounds could have been worse.
Darden, who had worked for the prison system for 10 years, was buried Saturday. Smith was buried Sunday.
Howe, the maintenance worker, and Shannon, an officer, remain at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia. Officer Midgett was released Oct. 17.
Stormer said that he hopes the the state makes prisons safer for workers. The state should keep tighter control over inmate movements, he said, and better screen inmates who have prison jobs – and access to potentially dangerous tools.
He also said North Carolina needs to hire more officers. Last year, nearly 29 percent of Pasquotank’s correctional officer positions were unfilled, data show.
Stormer said he was ready to get back to work. “I have a home and things to pay for.”
On Wednesday, he returned to Pasquotank.
Gavin Off: 704-358-6038