A gunman who killed himself, two deputies and his mother and stepfather in a 13-hour standoff in Boone had a large cache of weapons and may have been contemplating a public attack, Sheriff Len Hagaman of Watauga County said Thursday.
George Wyatt Ligon, 58, and his wife, Michelle Ligon, 61, were killed Wednesday, and the shooting suspect, Isaac Alton Barnes, 32, died at the scene, the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday.
Barnes was Michelle Ligon’s son and the George’s stepson.
Hagaman said that family members worried about the large number of weapons in Barnes’ possession.
“There was familial concern that he might try to do something and he had evidently a fairly large cache of weapons and he was at the house, which we didn’t think he would be,” Hagaman said.
“I’m convinced that the attitude of the suspect was such that he was planning this, not particularly at the officers, but possibly the public in general,” Hagaman said. “The officers, they thought they were going into one situation, and the perpetrator, the suspect was there.”
Sgt. Chris Ward and K-9 Deputy Logan Fox, who handled a patrol dog, were dispatched to a home on Hardaman Circle in Boone at 9:44 a.m. Wednesday after the homeowner and his family didn’t report to work or answer telephone calls.
Both deputies were hit by gunfire. Other officers were able to pull out Ward, who died at a hospital in Johnson City, Tenn. Fox died at the scene.
Fox’s body remained at the scene throughout the standoff, but it was unclear Thursday whether his body was inside or outside of the home.
A Boone police officer also was hit by gunfire during the attempt to rescue the deputies, but was uninjured due to his protective equipment, the sheriff’s office said.
Ward, 36, was an eight-year veteran of law enforcement who was married with two children, the sheriff’s office said.
Ward began his career at the Beech Mountain Police Department in 2013, the sheriff’s office said. Ward was later hired by the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office where he was promoted as a sergeant.
Fox, 25, was a two-year veteran of the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. Fox handled the patrol dog, “Raven.”
Fox also had worked as a deputy with the Ashe County Sheriff’s Office.
In a statement Wednesday, Hagaman said the standoff was calamitous.
“This is an incredibly tragic situation and our thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved as well as their families and our community,” Hagaman said.
During the standoff, the shooter periodically fired a gun in the direction of law enforcement officers who gathered at the scene from across western North Carolina.
The Ligons’ friends talked about the couple Thursday.
David Byrd, who described George Ligon as his closest friend, heard about the couple’s killing from another friend.
“It was definitely a shock because he was the kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back,” Byrd said. “I knew George better than Michelle, but both of them were fantastic people.
Byrd, 64, said he met Ligon through work in 1990. Both of them worked in the pest-control industry. Byrd said Ligon was the branch manager for Terminix in Boone and had hired him.
George and Michelle married over a decade ago, Byrd said. On Michelle’s Facebook page, she makes note of meeting George Ligon in July 2001.
“George was a very devoted and loving husband,” Byrd said. “He would have done anything in the world for her.”
Byrd said Ligon frequently talked to him about how Barnes had a drug problem. But he never heard Ligon express any concern for his own safety or that of his wife.
“They just had a lot of conflict there,” Byrd recalled. “He was just concerned about how he was being destructive with his life. He just asked me to pray for him.”
Michelle Ligon also had a daughter in college, Byrd said.
“George was always telling me how good she was doing and how much of a blessing she was to him and Michelle,” Byrd said.
Michelle Ligon was the director of public relations and social media for the Watauga County Tourism Development Authority.
Greta Anita Lint of Asheboro said she had known Michelle Ligon for many years.
Lint, a former executive director of the Lexington Tourism Authority, was a mentor for Michelle Ligon, Lint said. Ligon also hired Lint to write stories about Boone.
“When something happens to a member of the tourism industry in North Carolina, we all feel the pain,” Lint said.
Lint described Michelle Ligon as a happy-go-lucky person, whose death is a loss to the state’s tourism industry.
“She was very passionate about her job and very passionate about promoting not only Watauga County tourist attractions, but also attractions in western North Carolina and in the High Country,” Lint said.
Back the Blue NC, a nonprofit organization that advocates for law enforcement officials, launched a pair of online fundraisers on Thursday for the fallen deputies’ families, raising a total of more than $93,800 by Thursday night.
Winkler Knives, a small company in Boone that makes highly specialized edged tools, contributed $2,000 to each of the fundraisers for Fox and Ward.
Its co-owner, Karen Shook, said she was devastated when she heard the news that the deputies had died in the line of duty.
“It’s just heart-wrenching, it’s heartbreaking,” Shook said. “These are people that did not take their jobs to get rich.
“It’s very heartbreaking to know that they put themselves in the position to lose their lives trying to take care of others,” Shook said.
Journal reporter John Hinton contributed to this story.