ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. -- – Two prison employees were killed and several others injured in an incident Thursday afternoon at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City.
The two employees who were killed were: 35-year-old Justin Smith and 50-year-old Veronica Darden. Smith had worked as a correctional officer since 2012 and Darden was a Correction Enterprises Manager who oversaw inmates working in the specialty sewing plant.
Three other prison employees remain hospitalized in critical condition at a local hospital.
According to the NC Department of Public Safety, around 3 p.m., inmates started a fire in the prison's specialty sewing plant, where about 30 inmates work for Correction Enterprises producing embroidered logo items, safety vests and other sewn items.
After the fire was set, several inmates attempted to escape, but were immediately detained. The prison is currently under control and locked down, with all inmates accounted for in multiple counts.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper released this statement on the deaths of the prison employees:
"Those who work in our prisons do a difficult and demanding job that is critical to our safety. We're grateful to these fallen prison employees for their service, and we offer our condolences to their families, friends, coworkers and community on this tragic loss."
Members of the Prison Emergency Response Team responded to Pasquotank CI from other state prison facilities and are assisting the local prison staff.
Pasquotank Correctional Institution currently houses 725 male inmates in close, medium and minimum custody.
The Pasquotank County Sheriff's Department, along with the State Bureau of Investigation, are investigating the incident.
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PREVIOUS: At least 12 hospitalized including prison employees and inmates. The cause of the injuries is being investigated. Keith Acree, spokesperson for the NC Department of Public Safety says the injuries are a wide range, some are “badly injured”
Fire was set as a diversion to escape. Unclear how many inmates set the fire to try to escape.
The incident triggered lockdowns at three schools.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety said fires were set in the prison sewing plant, where approximately 30 inmates work.
Attempted escape at Pasquotank CI in Elizabeth City. Fires set in prison sewing plant. Several employees injured. More info when available.— NC Public Safety (@NCPublicSafety) October 12, 2017
Peter Sengenberger with Sentara Healthcare said that six people were taken to Sentara Albemarle Medical Center. There was no immediate word on their conditions. Sentara asked that family of the injured avoid the campus.
Lockdowns at Northside Elementary School, Elizabeth City Middle School, and Pasquotank County High School were lifted shortly after 5 p.m.
Students were dismissed, but those who ride the bus were required to have a parent at home when the bus arrived. If they did not, the bus driver took them back to the school.
After school events and athletics at all three schools were cancelled.