Local authorities foil possible mass shooting
Quick thinking and running a bluff gave Edgar County Sheriff’s Deputies the time needed to foil a possible mass shooting of private citizens, elected officials and law enforcement officers.
Justin Hefner of Terre Haute, Ind., entered the Edgar County Jail at 9:52 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 17, wearing a military-style bullet proof vest equipped with steel plates and an attached pistol holster across the chest. The butt of what appeared to be a semi-automatic pistol protruded from the holster. Pinned to a shoulder strap was a badge that was partially obscured by an American flag patch.
Hefner identified himself as a federal agent requesting assistance in making several arrests in Paris. Deputy Matt Smith was at the small window separating the dispatch room from the foyer where Hefner was standing. The window is used by citizens when conducting business at the jail.
In addition, Deputy Dee Burgin was standing off to the side and not visible to Hefner with the limited visibility provided by the single, small opening in the wall.
“We thought we were going to have a shootout at the front window,” said Burgin, adding Smith had his holster undone and his hand by his own weapon.
The deputies knew Hefner was not law enforcement but played along to keep him at ease.
“We made him feel like he was one of us,” said Burgin.
Hefner was told the deputies needed more information to help with the arrests and asked him to enter the jail to discuss it. That was a ruse to get him inside the secured area so he could not get back out and possibly flee into the public where he might do harm.
Before opening the first large steel door separating the foyer from the secured portion of the jail, Hefner was instructed to comply with jail security procedures and deposit his pistol in a lockbox located in the foyer.
Hefner complied and was admitted into the jail.
Smith and Burgin led him to an interview room and convinced him to take off the body armor, which is estimated at approximately 50 pounds in weight. Hefner was wearing a second bulletproof vest, like police officers use, underneath the military-style armor.
He also consented to a pat-down search by Smith as part of the security measures.
“We were on pins and needles,” said Burgin.
After they were confident Hefner was fully disarmed, the deputies started talking to him. They also surreptitiously contacted the Paris Police Department for backup and two Paris police officers came to the jail.
“We knew this was not going to go well,” Burgin said.
Hefner claimed Washington, D.C., sent him to Paris to make the arrests.
“When I asked him who he answered to, he told me the Pentagon,” said Burgin.
As a form of identification, Hefner presented a card stating he is a member of the Constitutional Wounded Warriors.
Hefner was also carrying a purple folder filled with papers that included a list of local people he intended to arrest.
“One of them (intended arrestees) was me,” said Burgin.
Other documents in the folder were printouts of stories from the Edgar County Watchdogs website, which apparently to Hefner’s thinking justified the arrests.
When the officers were ready they informed Hefner he was under arrest.
According to Burgin, the arrest occurred largely without incident although Hefner argued they lacked the authority to arrest him and he outranked them. He also insisted he wanted to go to his car for coffee.
Hefner admitted to having another weapon in the car and consented to a search.
Smith found an AR-15 rifle modified with a bump stock and a fully loaded 100-round magazine. The rifle had high-tech optics, a bi-pod for sniper shooting and tape on the barrel indicating at some point it may have been equipped with a silencer.
Other items found in proximity to the loaded rifle included a large package of zip ties for handcuffs, other plastic restraints and duct tape. Another badge was found on the visor and the car was equipped with a dash cam and flashing lights.
Two sets of metal handcuffs were on his person as part of the equipment attached to the body armor. The handgun recovered from the locker turned out to be a BB gun.
“The key component to this was we talked the guy into thinking we believed him that he was an officer, even though we knew he wasn’t,” said Burgin. “The other key component was getting enough manpower into place to make the arrest.”
Manpower can be a problem for the sheriff’s department. Hefner’s arrival at the jail was fortuitous because it caught the transition time when Burgin was going off duty and Smith was starting his watch.
“Fortunately, Dee stayed over,” said Smith.
Just after Hefner was secured Burgin was called away for a one-vehicle accident at 10:51 a.m.
After Hefner was in custody, Smith contacted the Terre Haute Police Department and officers from that agency searched Hefner’s home but did not find additional weapons. Burgin contacted the FBI per established protocols and has requested a federal investigation.
Smith researched Hefner’s background and it appears Hefner is a veteran and is originally from Edgar County, although it is not certain if he is from the Paris area or possibly Kansas.
Hefner was on the radar at some level of law enforcement and local officials because of his Facebook rantings. Smith said one of those Hefner wrote about obtained orders of protection, which made it illegal for Hefner to possess firearms.
Law enforcement had also placed Hefner’s white Hummer on a list of vehicles to watch.
“We knew he was coming. We just didn’t know when,” said Burgin.
The Paris Police Department was one of the targets Hefner railed against. Police Chief Mike Henness confirmed the department has monitored Hefner’s Facebook page for a week to 10 days.
“One of our street officers got wind of it,” said Henness. “It is alarming to a normal individual.”
The initial arresting charges against Hefner are impersonating a public official, unlawful use of weapons and unlawful use of body armor.
Formal charges will be determined by Edgar County State’s Attorney Mark Isaf after reviewing the police reports of the incident.
During a bond hearing late today (Feb. 18), Hefner was granted a $20,000 bond with 10 percent to apply. As of the time of this posting he remained in custody.