A former prison nurse helped her husband escape Tuesday by fatally shooting a correctional officer who was escorting him outside a county courthouse in Roane County, Tennessee.
An extensive search was under way for the pair, identified as George and Jennifer Hyatte, and authorities were trying to determine if an accomplice was involved, Roane County Sheriff David Haggard said.
Jennifer Hyatte had been fired from her job with a state contractor providing health care at a Tennessee prison because of her relationship with inmate George Hyatte, Corrections Department spokeswoman Amanda Sluss said.
Helicopters circled over the town of about 6,000 people, which county Emergency Management Agency spokesman Scott Stout called "small town USA." Schools were locked down and roads around the courthouse were closed.
Kingston Police Chief Jim Washam said authorities were preparing murder charges for both suspects.
"We do have leads coming in on possible whereabouts, possibly some family members that may be hiding them out. We're trying our best to coordinate those," Washam said. "Right now, we can't say if they had any help."
The officer, Wayne "Cotton" Morgan, 56, was shot in the stomach and was airlifted to University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville, about 30 miles east of Kingston, but hospital spokeswoman Lisa McNeal said he had died.
Morgan had been working for the Corrections Department for 28 years and had spent his entire career at the Brushy Mountain Correctional Complex.
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen put out a statement that said he was "outraged over the senseless and cold-blooded murder" and he vowed to "spare no effort to bring these criminals to justice."
George Hyatte, who is two years into a 35-year sentence at Brushy Mountain for aggravated robbery and aggravated assault, was at the courthouse to plead guilty in a deal with prosecutors over another armed robbery charge, Washam said.
Hyatte has a history of escape. In December 1998, he escaped from a jail in Kingston and was a fugitive for about a day. He was recaptured and convicted of felony escape.
The violence Tuesday started around 10 a.m. as officers from Brushy Mountain were loading Hyatte and other inmates into a prison van parked outside the courthouse. Hyatte was handcuffed, shackled at the feet and wearing a waist chain, Sluss said.
Washam said a woman driving a Ford Explorer sport utility vehicle pulled up behind the van.
"Mr. Hyatte hollered 'Shoot him!' She opened up fire on the officers, hitting one in the abdomen," Washam said. The woman was armed with a handgun and fired several times, he said.
Witness C. G. Gray said he and his wife were in the parking lot about 50 feet away from the prisoners when they heard shots. Gray said Morgan, who wasn't wearing a protective vest, never got his gun out of his holster but another guard, whose name wasn't immediately available, did return fire.
"The other officer did a get a shot off, apparently striking one of the individuals," Washam said.*
The SUV sped off but was found abandoned soon after with blood on the driver's side, leaving officials to think the woman may be injured, Washam said.
Several vehicles in the parking lot were struck by the shots and their windows shattered.
Sluss said it's standard protocol for correctional officers to wear bulletproof vests while transporting prisoners, but she confirmed that Morgan was not wearing one when he was shot. George Hyatte, 34, was described as black, 5 feet, 5 inches tall and 140 pounds and last seen wearing a blue denim prison uniform. Jennifer Hyatte was described as white, 5 feet 4 inches and 140 pounds. Her age wasn't available.
Authorities were searching for a gold Chevrolet Venture van that the two were believed to be using after dumping the SUV. The wife was in the courtroom as Hyatte entered his plea Tuesday, Washam said.
Rhea County Sheriff's Department spokesman Jeff Knight said George Hyatte has family in the Dayton area - which is about 40 miles southwest Kingston - but they don't want to have anything to do with him.