Authorities in Georgia said a manhunt was underway Tuesday after two inmates killed a pair of prison guards and escaped while being transported through a rural area southeast of Atlanta.
The inmates were on a prison bus traveling on State Route 16 in Putnam County early Tuesday morning when they overpowered the correctional officers on board, officials said.
“They then disarmed them and one of the subjects shot and killed both guards,” Howard R. Sills, the Putnam County sheriff, said in a statement.
After overpowering the guards at about 5:45 a.m., the inmates took the guards’ guns — .40 caliber Glock pistols — before carjacking a green 2004 Honda Civic and heading west toward Eatonton, Sills said.
Both inmates are white men who records show had been held at Baldwin State Prison, a facility about 100 miles southeast of Atlanta, and they were being transported between Hancock State Prison and Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison. State officials said there were 31 other inmates on the prison bus.
Teresa Slade, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, sid authorities did not know where the inmates were heading Tuesday.
“We’re not sure,” she said. “We have the direction that they fled and we have a very wide net with all the surrounding counties. But the direction’s unknown.”
The Georgia Department of Corrections identified the inmates as Donnie Russell Rowe, 43, who was sentenced for aggravated assault, and Ricky Dubose, 24, sentenced for armed robbery. Officials urged anyone who sees the two men to contact police.
— FBI Atlanta (@FBIAtlanta) June 13, 2017
“Our hearts are heavy as we mourn the loss of two of our officers, who are our family, and our priority is to locate these fugitives and bring them to justice for this heinous act against those working to protect the public,” Gregory C. Dozier, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, said in a statement. “We are utilizing full resources of our local, state and national partners and appreciate their support.”
A spokeswoman for the corrections department identified the two guards as Christopher Monica, 42, who was hired in 2009, and Curtis Billue, 58, who was hired in 2007. Both men worked as correctional officers at Baldwin State Prison, she said, and the department said they had an “unwavering commitment to their job” and their families.
“Please keep the families of our officers in your thoughts and prayers,” Jeal Salter, the spokeswoman, said in an email.
Remembering our two Baldwin State Prison officers tragically killed today – Christopher Monica hired 10-16-09 & Curtis Billue hired 7-16-07
— Georgia Corrections (@GA_Corrections) June 13, 2017
According to police in Athens, Ga., the inmates committed a burglary in Madison, Ga., and changed out of their white prison clothes.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said officials were heartbroken but resolved to catch the two inmates.
“Today, two families lost everything in a heinous and senseless act of violence perpetrated at the hands of cowards,” Deal said in a statement. “Words do not adequately express our sorrow in losing Sergeant Christopher Monica and Sergeant Curtis Billue in the line of duty. The selflessness and courage of these two brave souls will not be forgotten, nor will their sacrifice and service.”
Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who was testifying Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill, decried the attacks during his appearance before a Senate subcommittee.
“An attack on any American law enforcement officer is an attack on every law enforcement officer and the principles we all believe in,” Rosenstein said.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which tracks line-of-duty deaths, the two Georgia guards are the third and fourth corrections officer killed in the line of duty this year.
The first was Sgt. Steven R. Floyd, a veteran Delaware corrections official who died in February during a day-long hostage standoff at a state prison. Officials later said his death was a homicide caused by trauma. According to Texas officials, Shana Tedder, another veteran corrections official, died Friday “from an apparent medical emergency” while at a prison. Authorities there have said she had a “use of force” altercation with a prisoner.
This story, first published at 10:46 a.m., has been updated and will be updated again.