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NC Church Serves as Place of Mourning after Two Deputies Killed in Standoff

On Sunday, the Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Boone, North Carolina, served as a house of mourning for a community reeling after a lengthy standoff killed five people last week, including two deputies. Five days earlier, the church became an impromptu staging area for police and medical personnel as the incident unfolded in a nearby neighborhood.

Photo source: Mount Vernon Baptist Church via Facebook.

The standoff began Wednesday morning around 9:45 a.m. when Watauga County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Logan Fox, 25, and Sgt. Chris Ward, 36, were sent to perform a welfare check at 553 Hardaman Circle. The homeowner’s employer reported the homeowner missed work and remained unresponsive to phone calls.

The officers were met with gunfire upon entering the house, kicking off a standoff that would span nearly 13 hours. Fox died on the scene, and Ward later died at the Johnson City Medical Center in neighboring Tennessee.

About a four-minute drive from Hardaman Circle, Mount Vernon Baptist Church quickly transitioned into a staging area for first responders. The church, one of a handful of vaccine locations in Watauga County, had been holding a vaccination event in the parking lot that morning.

The standoff ended around 11 p.m. Authorities said the suspect, 32-year-old Isaac Alton Barnes, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after allegedly killing his mother and stepfather, 61-year-old Michelle Annette Ligon and 58-year-old George Wyatt Ligon.

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In a video message posted Friday, Mount Vernon Senior Pastor Todd Houston called it “one of the most tragic events the High Country [region] has ever seen.” He invited the church congregation and community members to join together in mourning on Sunday. The service would also kick off a series of sermons on the Habakkuk, a book that covers faith in times of crisis.

“The outcome of Wednesday was not the outcome any of us wanted, so I wanted to give our church family some perspective on how we process that,” Houston told Charlotte-area news station WBTV.

Speaking to WBTV, Mount Vernon Recreational Pastor Eric Henderson referred to the church as a “spiritual hospital,” saying, “this is where you go when you’re hurting.”

Other ministries responded with support as well. The Charlotte-based Billy Graham Rapid Response Team sent crisis-trained chaplains and a mobile ministry center to Boone to support grieving families and community members. Edward Graham, the youngest son of Samaritan’s Purse CEO and evangelist Franklin Graham, joined the crisis team on Thursday to meet with law enforcement officials.

The event came as a shock to Watauga County, hardly a hub for violent crime. In 2019, it saw 111.3 violent crimes per 100,000 people, according to the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation’s 2019 Crime Index. For comparison, the statewide violent crime rate for that year was 407.7 per 100,000 people.

Funeral services for Fox and Ward will be held May 6 at the Holmes Convocation Center at Appalachian State University.

Shannon Cuthrell

Shannon Cuthrell is a journalist with a background covering business, technology and economic development. She has written for Business North Carolina magazine, WRAL TechWire, Charlotte Inno and EE Power, among other publications.