FULTON • Two men are dead following a 32-hour hostage situation at a residence in northeast Itawamba County. A 10-year-old girl was rescued safely.
Itawamba County deputies were called to a house on Alice Hall Road around 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 29 for a report of an armed man holding two hostages. The situation ended at 9:15 p.m. the following day when the Mississippi Highway Patrol SWAT team stormed the house.
Itawamba County Sheriff Chris Dickinson told The Itawamba County Times that the suspect, Nathan Shepard, instructed the child to call 911 at approximately 12:30 p.m. Saturday and report a disturbance in order to bring deputies to the house.
“The little girl then had the presence of mind and forethought enough to sneak into another room and call back,” Dickinson said. “She told dispatch to tell the deputies not to come to the door because he was standing there with a gun.”
Officials were in contact with Shepard the entire time by cell phone. Itawamba County Sheriff’s Department investigator Mike Newlin made initial contact with Shepard and began negotiations. Dickinson said Newlin was able to build rapport with Shepard.
Newlin made repeated contact with the suspect over the 32-hour standoff.
“He was talking the entire 32-hour period,” Dickinson said. “As long as he was talking and we were able to talk to the girl, then there was hope.
Newlin continued to negotiate with Shepard following the arrival of agents with the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation (MBI) and the Special Weapons and Tactics Team(SWAT).
The SWAT team then placed small cameras for law enforcement visibility throughout windows and doors of the home. They were able to establish that Shepard was holding the child tightly to his chest. They also established a second individual, later identified as the home’s resident, Paul Blackburn, was dead.
“Unfortunately we knew at that point we could do nothing to help Mr. Blackburn, so we focused every ounce of our energy on the little girl,” Dickinson said. “The dynamics of this case covered a broad range: an active barricade, a child in a hostage situation, one individual dead and a gunman with nothing to lose. It was imperative we wait him out and keep him calm.”
Negotiations continued throughout Sunday with the suspect requesting food, and law enforcement meeting the demand.
Late Sunday night, the young girl asked Shepard to allow her to use the restroom. When Shepard released her, law enforcement officials shot him.
“It was at that point the opportunity arose and we ended the situation,” Dickinson said.
The 32-hour standoff is reportedly the longest in the state’s history.
Authorities are still trying to piece together the relationship between Shepard and the hostages. Dickinson declined comment on why Shephard took the girl and her father hostage.
Dickinson praised the actions and composure of the youthful hostage.
“We were fortunate the 10-year-old is very savvy and brave,” Dickinson said. “She called 911 and told the dispatcher not to let the deputies near the door because there was danger there.
“She probably saved those two deputies’ lives.”