A massive manhunt continued into Tuesday evening for a pair of dangerous inmates who shot and killed two Georgia correctional officers in a brazen pre-dawn escape from a prison transport bus 75 miles east of Atlanta.
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills called the prisoners — who fled the scene after carjacking a passing green Honda — “dangerous beyond description.”
“I saw two brutally murdered corrections officers. I have their blood on my shoes,” an emotional Sills said of what he found when he arrived on a stretch of Georgia 16 between Sparta and Eatonton where two veteran officers Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue died.
Federal, state and local law enforcement were pursuing Ricky Dubose, 24, and Donnie Russell Rowe, 43, in the slaying. Early Tuesday afternoon, they picked up the trail. The inmates broke into a residence in the city of Madison where Rowe and Dubose apparently they left their prison whites, changed into other clothes and took off yet again, police said. The search centered around that area of Morgan County.
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The Georgia State Patrol had helicopters in the air searching from the skies. And sheriffs statewide issued warnings to citizens as well as deputies on patrol.
Killers at Large
Law enforcement officials warned the pair are extremely dangerous because they have nothing to lose. Rowe was serving life without parole and Dubose’s conviction for armed robbery also made him ineligible for parole; he was to complete his 20-year sentence ends in September 2034. Murdering a correctional officer is a capital offense in Georgia.
Monica and Billue are the first Georgia prison guards killed since 2012 when an inmate stabbed Telfair State Prison correctional officer Larry Stell to death, Department of Corrections Commissioner Greg Dozier said.
“We have spoken to the families,” Dozier said. “As you can imagine, they’re (shaken). And they’re distraught right now just as you and I would be.”
The shooting was caught on video, according to Sheriff Sills, but he declined to offer any details.
Later in the day, the men were reportedly seen in a Family Dollar store on Eatonton Road in Madison, Ga., where they also ransacked a house, stealing clothes and food.
The violent incident has drawn condemnation from far and wide. At the state Capitol, Gov. Nathan Deal warned Georgians to be on guard.
“I urge all those in the surrounding areas to be vigilant and cautious while the killers remain at large,” Deal said.
“Our heartbreak is matched only in our resolve to bring their murderers to justice,” he said.
In Washington, Rod Rosenstein, deputy director of the U.S. Department of Justice, referred to the incident while speaking to the Senate Appropriations Committee, pledging “all federal resources to help catch those fugitives and hold the perpetrators accountable.”
“An attack on any American law enforcer is an attack on every American law enforcer,” Rosenstein said.
Law enforcement blanketed the area looking for the pair.
“Every deputy who totes a gun and drives a car” is assigned to patrol the Ga. 16 corridor, Spalding sheriff’s Deputy Chief Tony Thomason said on a posting on Facebook.
The GBI, FBI, the Department of Corrections, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Fraternal Order of Police are offering a reward totaling $60,000 — $30,000 for each man — for their arrests.
“Nothing to Lose”
The incident unfolded hours before dawn Tuesday, when Dubose and Rowe overtook the two officers, who were driving a transport bus carrying 33 inmates from Hancock State Prison near Sparta to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison outside Jackson 60 miles away, Sills said. They “went through the gate” that separated the inmates from the driver and front seat passenger. “I can’t tell you how the gate got open. It should have been locked. It may have been locked. I have no idea,” the sheriff said.
One of the inmates grabbed the officer’s .40-caliber Glock and fired several times, officials said. They then carjacked a passing car and disappeared.
The reaction to the escape was reminiscent of the escape of Brian Nichols from the Fulton County Courthouse in 2005 after killing a judge, a court reporter and a deputy — even down to the carjacking of a green Honda Accord.
“We don’t know what the outcome is going to be but I suspect it’s going to be very dangerous situation with the next (law enforcement) encounter with the suspects,” said Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan.
Capt. Darren Scarborough of the Elbert County Sheriff’s office knows Dubose. “He’s very dangerous and he has nothing to lose and I think he will go down in a blaze of glory. And that’s sad because some officer will have to answer for shooting him,” Scarborough said.
FBI spokesman Steve Emmett said agents are involved in the hunt and more resources could be added if the search drags on. “These two individuals have proven themselves to be extremely dangerous and with the murder of two correctional officers they are on the radar of all law enforcement in Georgia,” he said.
A Community on Lockdown
After the discovery that the inmates had taken clothes from a Madison house, the center of the search shifted to Morgan County where law enforcement set up a “staging area” at the Dollar General.
Darla Pennington, who lives a short distance from center of the police action in Madison, said helicopters had been hovering overhead and news crews and law enforcement had blocked the streets much of the day. The house where the inmates took the clothes is just a few doors away, she said.
Still, Pennington said, she’s no nervous because “I’m armed and I’ve got my house locked.”
And, she added, “we have a lot of confidence in our local law enforcement. We feel like they are on top of it.”
“Off the Chain”
Monica and Billue were running a routine transport of inmates, which happens regularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Monica, 42 and of Milledgeville, had been with the Department of Corrections since October 2009. Billue, 58 and also from Milledgeville, had been with the agency since July 2007.
They were driving 33 inmates from Hancock State Prison in Sparta to the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison outside of Jackson about 60 miles away when the two allegedly attack the officers.
Even as Dubose and Rowe ran, the other inmates stayed on the bus and were later taken to the Putnam County Sheriff’s Office to be questions. They all cooperated, prison officials said.
Dubose and Rowe have long histories of violent crimes. According to a law enforcement alert, Dubose is in an Aryan prison gang known as the Ghostface Gangsters.
Specifics about Rowe’s crimes were not immediately available. But according to state records, Rowe was sentenced to life without parole after he was convicted of armed robbery, possession of a firearm during a crime and aggravated assault in Bibb County in October 2001.
Dubose was convicted of financial identity fraud, credit card fraud, burglary by forced entry, theft by taking and entering a vehicle in Madison County in August 2010. That same month, Dubose also was convicted of robbery in Gwinnett County. He was then sentenced to 20 years in prison after he was convicted of aggravated assault, armed robbery and theft by taking in Elbert County in September 2014.
Scarborough said Dubose was convicted of armed robbery and aggravated assault for holding up a friend for $100 and then shooting him in the hand.
“He’s off the chain,” Scarborough said. “He’s just a loose cannon. He’s well-known to us.”