Lowndes County Sheriff’s Deputies fatally wounded 44-yr-old John Rogers Montgomery in a shoot-out in the woods off of Askew Rd. near Artesia around 9:30am Monday morning. Montgomery had been the subject of an area-wide two day manhunt involving nine agencies from three counties after he pulled a gun on a family member Sunday.
Lowndes County E-911 dispatched Dpty. Darrell Nabors shortly before 9:00am Sunday to 257 Askew Rd. just south of EMCC off of 45 Alt. John Montgomery’s niece, Leslie Taylor, had called authorities because she was concerned for her uncle’s health. Taylor told Nabors that Montgomery was a paranoid schizophrenic and that he had refused to take his medications since December. According to the Lowndes County Sheriff’s office, Taylor asked Dpty. Nabors to have him committed to Willowbrook Hospital so he could receive some help. Nabors informed Taylor that only the paramedics could make that determination, and he radioed in for BMH-GT ambulance and back-up from Dpty. Randy Collins.
Taylor told Nabors that she had seen Montgomery walking around the neighborhood in a daze, knocking over mailboxes and acting erratically. As EMT’s arrived alongside Dpty. Collins, Taylor and her husband Kenneth said although they knew Montgomery owned several guns, they did not think he had any ammunition. Kenneth Taylor offered to use his spare key to open he door to Montgomery’s adjacent trailer at 249 Askew after Montgomery refused to answer the door.
As Taylor opened the front door, Taylor immediately ran off of the porch and yelled to deputies: “He’s got a gun!!” Dpty. Nabors approached the front door and ordered Montgomery from the home. As Montgomery approached the front door, Nabors noticed that his right arm was down straight (as if it could be concealing a weapon) and he ordered Montgomery to show his hands. Nabors reached for the door, but Montgomery was able to get it closed.
Nabors and Collins escorted the Taylors back to safety and established a perimeter about 50 yards away from the trailer. Lowndes County Sheriffs Assistant Supervisor Larry Swearingen quickly arrived on scene and began to interview family members at the trailer on 257 Askew. As Swearingen gathered information, he noticed Montgomery sneak out of the back door of his trailer carrying what appeared to be a small caliber rifle. Deputies pursued Montgomery around the north end of his home until he ran into the nearby woods. As Nabors and Collins kept an eye on the treeline, Swearingen made the call to mobilize the Lowndes County Special Response Team (SRT) to help assist in the manhunt.
Around 11:30am Sunday, members from the Lowndes County Sheriffs, Columbus Fire Dept., Columbus Police, Mississippi Fish and Wildlife and BMH-GT paramedics were on scene to coordinate the search. The teams searched several properties in and around the area, including the southern border of EMCC and various cornfields. Shortly after 1:00pm, EMCC security officers, Clay County Sheriffs, Mississippi Highway Patrol and Oktibbeha County SRT and Sheriffs arrived on scene to assist. Despite nearly six hours of searching and several reported sightings, Montgomery successfully evaded capture. The decision was made around 5:30pm Sunday to stop the search and resume again in the morning. Dpty. Todd Mistrop kept a close patrol on the area until the search resumed Monday morning.
Lowndes County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Greg Wright returned to the area with a team of deputies around 8:30am Monday morning after patrolling deputies witnessed Montgomery’s mother, Virginia Spencer, drive from the family home on 257 Askew down to her son’s trailer.
The decision was made shortly after seeing Spencer go into Montgomery’s home that deputies would need to move quickly to assure her safety. Larry Swearingen was deployed in full camouflage into the woods north of Askew Rd as the rescue team assembled under some shade trees by a home on the corner of Askew and 45 Alt. Chief Dpty. Greg Wright held a ten minute strategy session with the nine men who would be involved in the mission. In the assembled group were: An ambulance crew from BMH-GT (I apologize profusely for failing to get their names) SRT & CFD member Neal Austin, Inv. James Faris, Lt. Tony Perkins, Lt. Willie Jones, Captain Joe Young, Detective Eli Perrigin, Dpty. Jason Humbers, Dpty. Paul Greggs and Dpty. Will Stann. [For the sake of brevity, I will refer to all officers hereafter by only their last name - CK]
The nine men drove down the road and turned onto Askew Rd, parking halfway in between the family trailer and Montgomery’s home. The men checked their firearms as they briskly walked down the road towards his home. As the team passed a small line of shrubbery, Virginia Spencer appeared in front of the home in the driveway. Just as Wright and Perkins approached Spencer to get her away from the home, Montgomery bolted out of his front door and across the gravel drive into the woods.
Officers filed into the woods using the same entrance as Montgomery, but quickly fanned out in formation as the penetrated the timberland. [Captain Joe Young held the rear of the pursuit, and alertly ordered me behind a small sedan parked in the home's driveway. I would like to thank Young personally for not allowing me any closer to the ensuing action than that. - CK] [No information on the actual shoot out was released by the Sheriff's Department or by the investigating agency- the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations(MBI). I was within earshot of the gunfight, and will try my best to be accurate: Several officers loudly shouted at Montgomery to drop the weapon. (The weapon was confirmed by MBI to be the same small caliber rifle as the day before)
. A single shot which I believe to have come from the rifle was the first I remember. It was shortly followed by four to five louder shots of a clearly larger caliber weapon. (Deputies are issued .45 Caliber Glocks, but are allowed to carry 9mm or 40mm pistols with department approval - CK) There were approximately 4 more shots I believe to have come from the rifle (Montgomery's) exchanged intermittently with at least seven other shots from at least 2 different weapons. The first part of the firefight lasted about 45 seconds. After the gunfire stopped, several officers could be heard yelling “clear!!” to each other and shouting directions that I could not make out. After a eerie silence that approached 30 seconds, a very clear “put the gun down!!!” rang through the warm morning sky.
The plea was answered with a rifle shot and about four quick shots from what sounded like a handgun. I believe one more rifle shot came out before the sound of a fully-automatic weapon could be heard firing in response. After about 30 seconds of silence, I heard the waiting ambulance get called into the scene-CK]
Wright, carrying a 12-gauge shotgun, emerged from the forest first, followed shortly thereafter by Perkins. As the ambulance crew parked and entered the woods, Swearingen emerged in full camouflage carrying a M-4 assault rifle [Up until that point, I had no idea Swearingen had been stationed in the woods ahead of time - CK]
Wright immediately phoned for support from Metro Narcotics and MBI and made his way to Mrs. Spencer who had ran up the road upon hearing the gunfire.
“My baby! My baby!” She cried. “Please no!” Spencer cried as Wright embraced her.
Meanwhile, 200 yards into the woods, BMH-GT paramedics were frantically working on Montgomery as he lay on the pine strewn ground. Montgomery was struck by at least two shots to the upper chest area. Montgomery was rushed to BMH-GT in critical condition, in which he remained until he passed early Tuesday morning.
Sheriff Butch Howard arrived on scene around 10:05am and the entire area was roped off until MBI arrived at 10:20am. Both Howard and Wright said that it was a terrible situation and a tragedy for all involved.
It can be deduced that the five officers placed on administrative leave by Sheriff Butch Howard were the only five that fired their weapons in the encounter. The five men believed to be granted leave were : Greg Wright, Larry Swearingen, Eli Perrigin, Jason Humbers and Paul Greggs. (Administrative leave is traditionally granted when weapons are used in the line of duty. Sheriff Butch Howard was said to have checked in on the officers while they were on leave and allegedly told them to take as much time as they needed to return healthy)
[I did my best not to make any assumptions in the story and tried to be as accurate as possible in my description. I can tell you that none of the men involved were happy with how the situation ended and they were noticeably affected. Several of the men went out of their way to comfort the family outside of their home shortly after. As I left Askew Rd., one of the officers told his partners: “Hate that it came to that...Just a shame.” - CK]