December 2, 2022

Prestonsburg, Ky., grapples with fallout from Lance Storz shooting

Nestled in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Kentucky, Prestonsburg is a beloved city and a tight-knit community with families who have lived here for generations.

The streets are lined with American flags, in December the firefighters hold a Christmas parade and the city’s sports fans love to support the local high school football team, the Prestonsburg Blackcats.

It’s a city where everyone is connected to each other, or at least knows each other, residents said. Citizens sleep with their doors unlocked. At least they did.

Kaye Willis, who was born in Prestonsburg and has never left, said for the first time that she started taking her keys out of her car when she parked it. At 63, she now wonders if a knock on her door or a loud ‘boom’ outside is a threat. Until last week, Willis never questioned his safety.

On June 30, three police officers were fatally injured while trying to execute a warrant in a domestic violence case when Lance Storz, 49, in nearby Allen, hit them with a barrage of gunfire. musket. The standoff lasted about three hours, with Storz surrendering around 10 p.m.

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Floyd County Sheriff’s Deputy William Petry, 60; Prestonsburg Police Captain Ralph Frasure, 60; and Prestonsburg police dog Drago were killed in the shooting. On Friday, 29-year-old Prestonsburg officer Jacob Chaffins, the dog handler, died of his injuries.

Floyd County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Darren Lawson remains at the University of Kentucky Hospital in Lexington with a shot in the leg. County Emergency Management Director Joe Reynolds and Constable Gary Wolf suffered eye injuries; Wolf is now blind in his right.

“It’s one of those things you read on the news,” Willis said. “You always hear people say ‘I never thought this would happen here’, and I really can’t believe it would happen in Prestonsburg.”

Family members embrace during the funeral of Floyd County Deputy William Petry at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg, Ky. on Tuesday, July 5, 2022. Petry and two Prestonsburg City Police officers held were killed while serving a warrant in a county house.  (Silas Walker/Lexington Herald-Leader via AP)

The sentiment is shared across the city. Shera Wagoner, who was Chaffin’s neighbor and close friend of Frasure’s wife, tearfully said, “It’s a place where you’re not afraid your kids will go out.” Now the mother of a 21-year-old and a 17-year-old, Wagoner recalls Frasure being a police officer when she was in high school.

Josh Shepherd, also born and raised in Prestonsburg, said the community of 3,500 people is the closest thing to Mayberry, the idyllic town of “The Andy Griffith Show”.

Residents just want it to stay that way.

Yet there will now be an element of caution in the lives of these people. Willis said communities are the sum of the choices of everyone who lives there, and people can’t rely on the idea that “we’re a small town and that’s not happening here.”

“I feel like we were innocent before this happened,” she said. “I hope we can keep this spirit of welcome and innocence.”

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The aftermath of the officers’ deaths

Like a fog covering the mountains of eastern Kentucky, grief blanketed Prestonsburg last week.

Car dealerships and gas stations display signs such as “Floyd County Strong” and police flags, in black and white with a single blue line running through them. At El Azul Grande, one of the local Mexican restaurants, the booth where officers sat each week is jammed, with black and blue balloons atop the table.

Shepherd wrote a song about the shooting, titled “3 Fallen Angels,” which now has more than 50,000 views on Facebook.

For this community, these officers were part of the family.

MaryAnn Fletcher, a resident of nearby Pikeville, said she met Petry when she worked as a reporter. Fletcher said she called him every day, “just annoying him, basically.”

However, their 30-minute interview slots would evolve into hour-and-a-half conversations about their lives. When Fletcher found out she was pregnant, she said telling Petry was like “telling a second dad.” He loved children and even cried when he found out.

In his speech at Frasure’s funeral, Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton described him as an “instigator”, a fishing partner and a wonderful school resource officer. Others mentioned his affinity for jokes – including pepper spraying people’s drinks – and usually having a cup of coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

Mourners waved to Prestonsburg Police Captain Ralph Frasure, who was laid to rest Wednesday afternoon in the Gardens of Gethsemane in Prestonsburg, Kentucky.  July 6, 2022

At Chaffin’s funeral, Deputy Chief of Police Ross Shurtlef said that while Frasure was the instigator, Chaffin was “the instigator” and would help prank his fellow officers. However, more than anything, people described him as a loving husband and father, with a warm smile on his face and a love for Jesus in his heart.

Some citizens even got “Be like Jake” tattoos, Cristy Blackburn, a friend of Chaffin’s, said at his funeral.

“I won’t dwell on the events of that day,” Prestonsburg Police Officer Austin King said. “I just want people to recognize that ordinary mountain people have done extraordinary things.”

In search of justice and peace

Despite the pain, the people of Prestonsburg have not lost sight of their roots.

Donation opportunities are flooding the local Facebook page. City restaurants provide free meals to officers. Even Draco, the deceased dog, will have his own vigil on Friday night.

On Wednesday evening, Willis delivered food to Deputy Lawson and his wife at the hospital while she was in Lexington, although she never met him in person.

Meanwhile, Storz is in the Pike County Detention Center, charged with two counts of murder of a police officer, five counts of attempted murder of a police officer, one count of attempted murder and one count of first degree assault on a service animal. records show. One of the attempted murder charges will likely be upgraded given Chaffin’s death.

His next court appearance will be on Monday, July 11.

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Prestonsburg Police Chief Randy Woods said the “community was shocked” by the shooting. However, in the future, he encourages people not to “seek revenge” but rather justice and peace.

While the people of Prestonsburg are forever changed, many believe the community will grow stronger through this tragedy.

“You never really get over something like that,” Fletcher said. “Like Eastern Kentucky does in a tragedy, we all come together to protect one of our own. In this case, four of our own.”

HOW TO HELP

To donate to officers, families and departments involved, visit appalachianky.org.

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Contact journalist Eleanor McCrary at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ellie_mccrary.