District Attorney’s Office releases findings from deadly standoff in Watauga Co.

Dep. Logan Fox and Sgt. Christopher Ward were killed in the line of duty on April 28, 2021.
The District Attorney has released new information regarding the mass murder involving two deputies in Watauga County in 2021.
Published: Jul. 29, 2022 at 11:46 PM EDT
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WATAUGA COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - New information has been released following an investigation into a shooting that killed two Watauga County deputies and led to a nearly 13-hour standoff.

A couple was also killed in the incident that happened on April 28, 2021.

In a report, the District Attorney revealed new details in the case. Some of the details of this report are graphic.

The report says Watauga County deputies were called by a woman who said her stepson, Isaac Barnes, held his father, Joseph Barnes, at knifepoint.

According to investigators, Isaac Barnes had asked his father to assist him with a dead car battery while camping in the woods on April 25. While in the woods, Isaac grabbed his father’s clothing, pulled the knife out and ordered him to sit on the ground.

While Joseph was on the ground, Isaac is said to have made ‘delusional statements,’ and made comments about killing his mother, Michelle Ligon and his stepfather, George Ligon.

Investigators say Isaac eventually allowed Joseph to get off the ground and work on the vehicle, but stood holding the knife and was armed with a pistol.

During the time Isaac and Joseph were in the woods, Isaac told Joseph that Michelle Ligon had kicked him out of her household 10 days prior to the April 25 date. He had since been living in the vehicle.

After four hours, Isaac allowed Joseph to leave after Joseph agreed to retrieve a rifle and give it to Isaac. Once back at his residence, Joseph’s wife reported what had happened to the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office. He did not return to give Isaac a rifle.

Two days later on April 27, Joseph Barnes and his wife went to the magistrate’s office to either have Isaac criminally charged or involuntarily committed. However, the magistrate’s computer system was not working and the couple was told to come back the next day, on April 28.

The next morning--April 28--the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office says it received a call regarding a welfare check on George Ligon, Isaac Barnes’ stepfather. Ligon did not show up for work so a co-worker drove to Ligon’s home. The co-worker did not find anyone at the home, prompting the call to authorities.

The sheriff’s office arrived at 10:03 a.m. to conduct the welfare check. A lieutenant and Dep. Logan Fox were the first to arrive.

Investigators say no one responded to repeated knocking on the door. The lieutenant called for backup, specifically requesting a ballistic entry shield, in preparation of entering the home.

Investigators say five deputies, including Dep. Fox and Sgt. Christopher Ward entered the home at 10:39 a.m.

The law enforcement officers searched the home and found the bodies of Michelle and George Ligon in a bathroom with both of their throats cut.

The report says deputies searched and cleared the remaining upstairs rooms, moving to the entry of the basement. Once at the basement entrance, something blocked their way.

Investigators say Dep. Fox was attempting to open the obstructed doorway when he was shot by Isaac Barnes at 10:42 a.m.

The other deputies retreated to the top of the stairs and began to form a perimeter around the outside of the home, with Sgt. Ward and an investigator remaining inside.

At approximately 10:57 a.m., investigators say another shot was fired inside the home, striking Sgt. Ward. Officers called for Sgt. Ward, but received no response.

A minute later at 10:58 a.m., more shots were reported to have come from inside the home, leading deputies to return fire. Another exchange of gunfire happened at 10:59 a.m. Prior to those exchanges, investigators say law enforcement had not yet fired any shots.

Images of the officer's helmet after being struck by a bullet
Images of the officer's helmet after being struck by a bullet(WIS)

Support and resources from surrounding jurisdictions arrived to assist, and at 12:08 p.m., a rescue team made up of officers from around the area entered the home. Barnes appeared in the basement stairwell and fired shots at the rescue team. One officer was hit with a bullet in his ballistic helmet.

The team was able to extract Sgt. Ward, but not Dep. Fox.

Sgt. Ward was transported to a hospital but was later pronounced dead.

Numerous agencies, including the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, Boone Police Department, Appalachian State University Police, Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office, Hickory Police Department, Caldwell County Sheriff’s Department, Morganton Public Safety, and the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, responded to the scene.

The State Bureau of Investigation took full control of the scene at 6:53 p.m.

Negotiators attempted to make contact with Isaac Barnes during a standoff. Law enforcement was unable to ever make contact with him and later deployed drones, bomb-diffusing robots and tactical gas canisters to end the standoff.

Investigators say Barnes continued to fire sporadic gun shots at law enforcement throughout the afternoon of April 28.

At 9:30 p.m., robots confirmed that two deceased bodies were inside the basement of the residence. The SBI Special Response Team entered the home at 9:56 p.m. and confirmed that all persons inside the home were dead.

Autopsies revealed that George and Michelle Ligon died due to head and neck injuries, and Dep. Fox and Sgt. Ward died as a result of gunshot wounds.

Barnes’ cause of death was found to have been a self-inflicted gunshot wound, although he also had a gunshot wound to his chest.

The SBI says it collected 123 items of evidence.

The District Attorney’s office that reviewed the evidence and materials provided by the SBI and the Chief Medical Examiner concluded that the actions of law enforcement officers were justified and ‘often rose to the highest levels of heroism as they sought to fulfill their oaths to protect and to serve our community and their comrades against the violent acts of Isaac Barnes.’

In addition, the office also concluded that officers on the scene acted lawfully and in a manner that was consistent with their duties as law enforcement officers.

The full report can be read here.

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