Two corrections officers were killed after a pair of inmates overpowered them on a prison bus with 31 other prisoners on board in eastern Putnam County early Tuesday.
The Georgia Department of Corrections identified the prison guards as Curtis Billue and Christopher Monica. Billue joined the department in 2007, and Monica began work in 2009.
Authorities were hunting for Ricky Dubose and Donnie Russell Rowe. The two armed inmates escaped with the guards’ .40-caliber Glocks.
Rowe, who is white and in his 40s, stands 6-foot-1 with brown hair and blue eyes. He weighs about 180 pounds. He was serving time in Baldwin State Prison for an armed robbery in Bibb County, according to the Georgia Department of Corrections website.
Dubose is white, about 6-foot-1 and weighs about 140 pounds. He was serving time at Baldwin State Prison for armed robbery in Elbert County.
Recent photos show him with tattoos on his face and neck.
The inmates were last seen after commandeering a passerby’s a four-door, dark green 2004 Honda Civic, with Georgia license plate RBJ6601 and were headed west toward Eatonton about 6:45 a.m.
Later, the Madison Police Department reported that the men broke into a home there and took clothes, left their prison uniforms and fled.
The first call for help came in shortly before 7 a.m. Tuesday as the inmates took control of the transport bus on Ga. 16 below Lake Oconee, not far from the Hancock County line.
A reward of $60,000 is being offered for information that leads to the men’s arrest, the GBI reported on Twitter, and that tally is expected to increase.
There were conflicting reports on which escapee shot the guards or whether both of them had fired shots.
One law enforcement official said privately that one of the escapees was thought to have ties to a criminal group known as the Ghost Face Gangsters.
Dubose and Rowe each face charges that include two counts of murder and one count each of carjacking and escape.
In a statement Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal saluted the slain officers and called the killers "cowards."
"No effort will be spared in pursuit of the killers," Deal said.
In an open letter to the men, the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office urged them to turn themselves in.
“You made your escape, but you won't be out long,” it read in part. “Every lawman in the Southeast is looking for you. Every citizen in the Southeast is looking for you. You may have help hiding out for a few days, but someone is going to snitch you out and then we will find you. There is no one you can trust ... and nowhere you can go that we won't find you. ... Stop now, dial 911 and turn yourself in peacefully.”
At a news conference late Tuesday morning, Putnam Sheriff Howard Sills said the escapees took the passerby’s cellphone and took off in his Honda. Sills said the men appeared to have ditched the cellphone soon after.
“He happened to be coming along at the wrong time,” Sills said of the carjack victim, a local man. “He stopped. He thought it was a work detail. ... Next thing he knew, two guys approached him armed with pistols. ... He then flaggged down a car.”
The sheriff said the attack on the bus happened about six miles east of Eatonton and that the killers had somehow managed to get into the locked area where the driver, who was a corrections officer, and another corrections officer were. Those men were the only two guards aboard.
Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Greg Dozier said at a news conference shortly before noon, “Obviously it’s a tragic day for the family of corrections and the loved ones of these two officers. ... My heart is still in the soles of my shoes.”
The prison bus was en route to various prisons but began its trip at Hancock State Prison before heading into Putnam.
Asked how the two prisoners may have been able to overpower the guards, Dozier said, “We have secure vehicles and that should not have happened.”
Sills, the sheriff, said one corrections officer was driving and that the escapees somehow went through a gate while the bus was moving on the highway.
“There was a physical altercation, and they took (the guards’) guns away from them,” Sills said. “They were both shot on the bus. I have their blood on my shoes.”
Asked by a reporter how authorities would go about catching the escapees, Sills, anger welling in his voice, said, “We get these guys by the public looking for this green Honda Civic. We need somebody to find this car. ... They are armed. They are dangerous. ... We have no idea where they are. ... They may well have dumped that vehicle and stolen another car.”
The sheriff added, “I would suggest that they surrender before we find them.”
Said Dozier: “We will find them and they will pay the price.”
A couple of hours earlier, Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee was at the scene assisting, as were deputies from Hancock County.
“We’re trying to get this bus unloaded,” Massee said about 9 a.m. “We have (31) inmates getting off the bus.”
According to Telegraph archives, Rowe was convicted of a 2001 armed robbery at the Super 8 motel on Arkwright Road in north Macon.
Rowe and an accomplice robbed two men they had met at a strip club in Atlanta that night.
Rowe and the other man also were charged with a robbery at the Interstate 75 rest stop in southern Monroe County on their way to Macon.
“This is one continuous crime spree perpetrated by these two dangerous con men,” Assistant District Attorney Sandra Matson said at trial.
Rowe had two prior convictions for burglary, robbery and grand theft auto and was sentenced in 2002 to life without parole, followed by an additional five years.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said during testimony before a Senate budget panel in Washington Tuesday that federal resources are being committed to help catch the fugitives.
“An attack on any American law enforcement officer is an attack on every American law enforcement officer and the principles we all believe in,” he said.