A corrections officer is dead after being attacked by an inmate Wednesday afternoon at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Stillwater.
Sources tell WCCO-TV that Officer Joseph Gomm was attacked with a hammer by an inmate, who was also confirmed to WCCO as Edward Muhammad Johnson.
Officials say the attack happened at about 1:30 p.m. in the industry building, where inmates have work assignments in things like welding and carpentry. A source said other inmates blocked the door when officers responded. DOC Commissioner Tom Roy said Gomm was not armed.
"The typical officer is issued what's called pepper spray and radios. And when something bad goes down, the team is summoned and other officers are summoned, and it's a fairly rapid response," Roy said.
Gomm was rushed to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he was pronounced dead. The prison has been on lockdown since the deadly attack.
Johnson, 42, has been serving time for the 2002 murder of a woman with whom he shared a home. He was transferred to a maximum security prison after the attack.
Commissioner Roy was visibly emotional when he gave a press conference early Wednesday evening in St. Paul.
"Officer Gomm was a fine man doing honorable work," Roy said. "We are visiting emotions that we have not visited before."
He said he believes this is the first time an inmate has killed a corrections officer at Stillwater prison. Roy said Gomm, who is survived by two family members, had just reached his 16-year anniversary as an officer.
"The time today, I hope, will be focused on the family and their loss. I hope we can focus our efforts on the staff and their feelings, because really, that is our priority at this time," he said.
On social media, those who worked with Gomm shared gratitude for knowing him. One woman wrote on Facebook, "He worked in my unit for years and made sure I got out safely to see my loved ones every day. I never let a day go by where I didn't thank him for that!"
A source, who at one point worked with Gomm, described him as caring and confident, and someone who pointed out what corrections officers should do to protect themselves.
Outside Officer Gomm's home in Blaine, neighbors were coming to terms with the news.
"I think it's terrible and I think most of the people here think it's really horrible," said neighbor Mary Olson. "Nobody deserves to die in such a way."
There have been numerous attacks on officers at Minnesota prisons this year, including Stillwater. When WCCO-TV last looked at attacks at Stillwater in late March, offenders had attacked 17 officers.
Stillwater is the state's largest close-security prison for male felons. There are approximately 1,600 inmates there.
State Representative Jack Considine calls the safety and security of officers paramount, and now questions the program's vetting process.
"You dance a fine line. You want inmates to learn new skills, you want them to be better prepared when they leave the facilities, to lead productive tax-paying lives, but then you end up with an inmate with a hammer in his hand," Considine said.
Officials have put all of Minnesota state prisons on lockdown out of what they call an "abundance of caution" until they determine if this was in fact an isolated incident.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading the investigation.