Two escaped inmates sought in the killings of two guards on a Georgia prison bus were captured Thursday after they were held at gunpoint by a rural Tennessee homeowner whose vehicle they were trying to steal, authorities said.
Donnie Rowe and Ricky Dubose were apprehended in the rural community of Christiana, Tennessee, ending a multiple state manhunt that began early Tuesday morning.
"True bravery is what's caused us to stand before you tonight to talk about a successful capture instead of a tragic incident," Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) Director Mark Gwyn said. "So I'm totally grateful to everyone involved."
Earlier in the day, police in nearby Shelbyville had responded to a call about a home invasion, where a couple had been held captive, Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) spokeswoman Nelly Miles said.
The suspects fled in the couple's vehicle and fired on sheriff's deputies chasing them on Interstate 24 about 50 miles southeast of Nashville, Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Bill Miller said. Rutherford County Sheriff Michael Fitzhugh said his deputies did not return fire and none were injured.
Rowe and Dubose crashed the car and bailed out, running into the woods, Miller said. They then came across a home set back on a long driveway.
The trooper said the homeowner looked outside and saw the two allegedly trying to steal his car. The man held the two at gunpoint with a neighbor he called for help until the sheriff's department could get there to arrest the fugitives.
The two are being held in the Rutherford County Jail.
Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Greg Dozier said in a news release he was relieved the two inmates were captured and no longer a threat to the public.
"They will be brought to justice swiftly for their heinous crime against our Officers," he said, also expressing gratitude to all of the law enforcement officers who provided support and assistance in the search for the two men.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal applauded the "tireless efforts" of law enforcement but also turned his thoughts to the families of the two officers, saying their pain remains.
"We will do everything in our power to support their loved ones, and we will not forget their sacrifice and service," Deal said.
TBI spokesman Josh DeVine said the bureau's agents will take part in processing the scene.
Shelbyville ‘hero’ credits higher power
The man credited by law enforcement with holding two Georgia prison escapees at gunpoint until police arrived rejected the "hero" label on Friday, and said credit should go to forces well beyond his control.
"I realized I had two ex-cons wanted for murder who had just shot at law enforcement who had nothing to lose and for some reason they surrendered and laid down on the concrete in my driveway," Patrick Hale said. "If that doesn't make you believe in Jesus Christ, I don't know what does."
Hale said friends had just alerted him that the fugitives wanted in the slayings of two prison guards had been spotted in his area of rural Tennessee, so he quickly loaded his guns. Moments later, he saw them climb over his fence and approach his home, where he was alone with his little girl.
He decided to flee — getting into his car with his girl. Then, just as he prepared for the worst, the inmates took off their shirts and waved them in the air in a sign of surrender. He thinks they mistook his car for a law enforcement vehicle.
He said he never had to pull out his weapon — but the wait was agonizing. More than 45 police officers began showing up within three minutes, he said.
"I cannot tell you how grateful I was to see them arrive," Hale said.
The manhunt for Donnie Rowe and Ricky Dubose suddenly focused on Tennessee Thursday evening after the fugitives invaded a home in Shelbyville and held a man and his wife hostage for several hours.
That couple "are lucky they're alive," Bedford County Sheriff Austin Swing said. The fugitives "told them that they would probably be dead in 24 hours and they didn't have anything to lose."
The fugitives tied them up, and when the man tried to break free, they tied him up tighter, putting socks on his hands so he couldn't loosen his bonds, Swing said. They also ate a beef stew the woman had been preparing, took valuables and clothing, and ordered them to concoct a story that would conceal their identities.
"They threatened them that they would be back if they didn't," Swing said.
By about 5 p.m. they were on the run again, in the couple's Jeep. Within 15 minutes, the couple managed to call for help.
"We've had an armed home invasion," the man told a 911 dispatcher. "It's the two people from Georgia, escapees. They're in a black Jeep Cherokee Trailblazer. We need help out here quick ... hurry!"
His wife can be heard sobbing as he tries to reassure her, saying: "It's all right. You've survived. You've survived. You did it. You did a good job. Come here and let me hold you."
Deputies spotted the car and chased it for 20 miles (32 kilometers) at high-speed, Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Bill Miller said.
Rutherford County Sheriff Michael Fitzhugh said the suspects fired shots, striking several cruisers, but his deputies weren't hit and didn't return fire to avoid endangering other motorists on Interstate 24 southeast of Nashville.
The chase ended with a crash near the community of Christiana, Tennessee. With deputies in hot pursuit, the suspects left the weapons they had stolen from their guards in the couple's wrecked car, and ran through trees to Hale's property.
Miller said the homeowner held them at gunpoint until deputies arrived. But Hale said he wanted to set the record straight: "I had a weapon on me, but I never had to draw the weapon as has been in the news."
TBI Director Mark Gwyn said he's "totally grateful to everyone involved."
"True bravery is what's caused us to stand before you tonight to talk about a successful capture instead of a tragic incident," he said.
Hale took a picture of the escapees once they were surrounded by law enforcement officers. It shows them spread-eagled and shirtless, face-down on the concrete — the same postures he said they had assumed themselves without saying a word to him.
The fugitives were taken to the Rutherford County jail, and in a hearing on Friday, wearing orange jumpsuits and surrounded by officers, they waived their right to challenge their extraditions to Georgia.
"They will be brought to justice swiftly for their heinous crime against our officers," Georgia Department of Corrections Commissioner Greg Dozier said in a news release.
Their escape began early Tuesday, when authorities said they somehow got through a door that should have been locked separating the guards from the inmates on the prison bus.
On the run
The two men had been on the run since early Tuesday, when they are accused of having killed Sgt. Christopher Monica and Sgt. Curtis Billue.
The two inmates overpowered and disarmed the guards about 6:45 a.m. Tuesday as 33 inmates were being driven between prisons, authorities have said. One of them fatally shot both guards, and then they jumped out of the bus and carjacked a driver who happened to pull up behind them on a state Highway 16 in Putnam County, southeast of Atlanta, authorities said.
The two inmates then fled in the stolen Honda Civic and drove about 25 miles north to Madison, where they ransacked a home, stealing food and clothes and leaving their prison uniforms behind around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Late Tuesday night, about 12 hours after the home burglary, the pair stole a Ford pickup truck from a rock quarry about 9 miles from the burglarized home when the trail had gone cold.
The FBI announced a tip line and said pictures of the men and information about a $130,000 reward would appear on billboards in multiple states. TBI's Gwyn said Thursday he wasn't sure who would collect the reward.
Authorities warned that the men, who had escaped with the guards' 9 mm pistols, were considered very dangerous. Gwyn said investigators believe both weapons have been found at the site where the men crashed the vehicle.
Monica and Billue were transfer sergeants at Baldwin State Prison. Monica had been with the Georgia Department of Corrections since October 2009 and Billue since July 2007.
Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said the escaped inmates had been inside a secured area of the bus. He said he didn't know how they got through the locked cage to overpower the guards.
Protocol is to have two armed corrections officers on the bus, but the officers don't wear bullet-proof vests during transfers, Dozier said.
Both escapees were serving sentences for armed robbery and other crimes. The Department of Corrections said Rowe, 43, had been serving life without parole since 2002, and Dubose, 24, began a 20-year sentence in 2015.
Newton County aids in national effort
Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown said the Newton County Sheriff’s Office was following every lead it got regarding the ongoing manhunt of the two escaped inmates.
“We’re following every possible lead, looking for vehicles that match the description, we’re really exhausting every particular isolated area within the county,” Brown said.
Brown said the NCSO followed up on tips within the county, but nothing played out.
“If (the escapees) should read The Covington News, my advice would be, ‘Do not show up in Covington, Georgia, Newton County,” Brown said.
News Editor Jackie Gutknecht contributed to this report.