Family warned authorities of suspected gunman in North Carolina standoff, sheriff says

Sgt. Chris Ward and K-9 Deputy Logan Fox were killed during the hourslong standoff. Three others were found dead inside a house.

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Just days before a man in North Carolina died by apparent suicide after fatally shooting four people on Wednesday, family members warned authorities that he "might try and do something," the Watauga County Sheriff said.

Sgt. Chris Ward and K-9 Deputy Logan Fox responded to a welfare check on a person at a home in Boone, about 102 miles northwest of Charlotte, on Wednesday after the homeowner did not show up for work, according to the Watauga County Sheriff's Office. After identifying all the vehicles on the property on the 500 block of Hardaman Circle, the deputies entered the home.

That is when authorities said someone inside opened fire, striking both deputies and triggering a 13-hour standoff.

Ward, 36, died after he was taken to Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, according to the agency. Fox, 25, died at the scene.

The suspect was identified as Isaac Alton Barnes, 32, who authorities said died by apparent suicide after fatally shooting the residents of the home, Michelle Annette Ligon, 61, and George Wyatt Ligon, 58. Barnes was the son of one of the victims and the stepson of the other.

Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman told reporters on Thursday that his office received calls from Barnes' family members on Sunday who warned authorities that he "might try and do something."

Hagaman said the suspected shooter had a "large cache of weapons," and deputies were warned to "be on the lookout."

"I'm convinced that the attitude of the suspect was such that he was planning this — not particularly at the officers, but possible the public in general," Hagaman said.

During the initial attempt at rescuing the deputies, a Boone police officer was hit by gunfire, but was uninjured because he was wearing protective gear, the sheriff's office said.

Authorities said the suspected gunman "periodically" opened fire at officers who surrounded the house until the standoff ended around midnight.

“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 in a statement on Thursday. “I greatly appreciate the tremendous support we are receiving from law enforcement agencies across the region and the state.”

During the standoff, law enforcement encircled the house, and nearby residents were evacuated.

Ward was an eight-year veteran of the force, while Fox had been with the sheriff's office for two years. Flowers and candles were laid for the slain officers at a memorial statue outside of the Watauga County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, NBC affiliate WCNC reported.

Sgt. Chris Ward (L) and K-9 Deputy Logan Fox (R) of the Watauga County Sheriff's Office were both killed in a lengthy standoff with a lone gunman in Boone, N.C. on Thursday April 29, 2021.

Sgt. Chris Ward (L) and K-9 Deputy Logan Fox (R) of the Watauga County Sheriff's Office were both killed in a lengthy standoff with a lone gunman in Boone, N.C. on Thursday April 29, 2021.Watauga County Sheriff's Office / via AP

The incident was the latest deadly shooting in the U.S. this year.

While there is no federal definition for mass shootings, the Gun Violence Archive, a nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C., defines it as a shooting incident in which four or more people are injured or killed, excluding the shooter.

Data from the Gun Violence Archive showed that the number of multiple-victim shootings first spiked in April 2020 and has remained high since.

From Jan. 1 to April 26, there have been 160 shootings in which four or more people were injured or killed — compared to just over 90 during the same period in 2020.

This year’s total is nearly double the average for the same time period every year since 2014.