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Here’s how you can help victims’ families after fatal NC prison attack

911 calls reveal moments of panic in prison 'mass casualty incident'

Four prison employees were killed during an attempted escape at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City, N.C.
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Four prison employees were killed during an attempted escape at Pasquotank Correctional Institution in Elizabeth City, N.C.

Friends, family and strangers have raised hundreds of dollars for the families of two of the prison workers hurt or killed last week during what investigators are calling a failed prison escape.

But those fundraisers still have thousands of dollars to go before hitting their goals.

Geoff Howe, a mechanic at the prison, was hospitalized Thursday after the violence at Pasquotank Correctional Institute, which also led to the deaths of two of his co-workers there.

He remained hospitalized Tuesday. Although the N.C. Department of Public Safety wasn’t releasing information about his status, a GoFundMe page set up to raise money for his family indicated that he was on life support.

“Thank you for all your prayers,” a Tuesday morning update said. “The doctors aren't giving us much hope for Geoff’s recovery, however God is. They are speaking things that would make the parents think they should pull the plug ... but we know the devil is a liar!”

People had donated $2,000 toward the fundraiser’s goal of $50,000. According to the person who set it up, Charlie Gwin Perez, Howe has two young children and a fiancee, Brandi Barnes.

“Times like these take a financial toll on everyone, especially those with small children to take care of,” the fundraiser page says. “Geoff and Brandi have two daughters to take care of as well as regular bills. This page has been set up to try to relieve some financial burden from Brandi during this time, so that she may stay by his side providing loving support.”

According to DPS, Howe was one of three corrections employees who remained in the hospital Monday, along with Wendy Shannon and George Midgett.

No charges have been filed. Pasquotank County Sheriff Randy Cartwright said Tuesday that he planned to make an announcement Wednesday about the investigation, although he gave no further details.

Another fundraiser has been set up for Justin Smith, one of the people killed on Thursday.

Smith, 35, was guarding inmates working in the sewing plant where the escape attempt began, investigators said. He had been a corrections officer for about five years.

The fundraiser for Smith was started by a local woman named Angela Welsh who said she plans to work with the sheriff’s office to get the money to Smith’s mother.

It has raised $525 so far toward its ultimate goal of $10,000.

“While no amount of money can change the events of today, or bring back those we lost, my hope is our community can come together to offer the victims and their families monetary support in their time of need,” Welsh wrote.

There didn’t immediately appear to be any online fundraisers for the other person killed, supervisor Veronica Darden, or the two other officers who were seriously injured.

North Carolina’s main advocacy group for state employees, SEANC, has also spoken up in the wake of Thursday’s attack to call for better pay and benefits for prison workers to cut down on safety issues tied to understaffing in hard-to-fill corrections jobs.

At Pasquotank Correctional last year, more than one in every four jobs was vacant last year – the second-highest understaffing rate among the state’s dozens of prisons.

Ardis Watkins, SEANC’s head lobbyist, said that in addition to better pay and benefits to help fill jobs, prison workers also need more leeway to keep inmates under control.

“What we’re hearing from officers ... is that the relationship between officers and inmates has changed over the years,” Watkins said after the news broke of the attacks. “Officers are afraid of being accused of mistreating an inmate.”

In 2016, the number of reported assaults on prison staff rose slightly – from 1,136 assaults in 2015 to 1,160 last year.

Before 2017, no North Carolina prison employee had been killed on the job in years. In 2009, a correctional officer named Edward Pound died two months after being struck in the neck by an inmate who was later convicted of manslaughter.

In addition to Smith and Darden, corrections officer Meggan Callahan was killed in April. Authorities have accused an inmate at Bertie Correctional Institution of murdering her with a fire extinguisher.

“You want to go to work and leave there at the end of the day, and that’s what I hear most often from correctional officers,” Watkins said.

Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran

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