It was on the evening of August 26, 1973, that Sgt. John Hugh Howell II was shot and killed after responding to a domestic dispute.
Sgt. Howell was familiar with the family because of previous trips to diffuse domestic incidents so when he arrived at the location the man’s son let him into the house.
There, the father, armed with a .22 caliber rifle shot Howell in the chest and hand. He was able to make it to his patrol car and called for assistance, but then died from his wounds.
The man who shot Howell was convicted of second degree murder in March, 1974 and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He served just over eight years and was released on May 28, 1982. In May of 1995, he was killed when a tractor overturned on top of him.
Howell joined the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office after serving in the US Army in Vietnam. He is the only Lincoln County law enforcement officer ever shot & killed in the line of duty.
A memorial service was held on the anniversary of his death in 2019; and another was held Thursday (Aug. 26th) on the east side of the Lincoln County Courthouse.
Sheriff Bill Beam said of Howell, “Only 24 years old when he was killed , I knew John and he was a good man and a good officer. He deserves the remembrance of his peers and our citizens for his work and his sacrifice.”
While it was not a part of the service remembering and honoring Howell, his death is a grim reminder of the danger that law enforcement officers face every day.
370 officers nationwide died in the line of duty last year. 45 of them were shot and killed.
While no local officer died that way last year, two Lincoln County Sheriff’s deputies were injured by gunfire while trying to serve warrants on an individual on Gaston Webbs Road last August. The suspect was killed during the altercation.
In that incident, officers had responded to a physical domestic disturbance and after clearing the call learned that the man involved had four outstanding warrants.
Deputies returned to the location to serve the warrants and the suspect retreated into a block building where he began firing a shotgun. The deputies returned fire killing the suspect. One deputy was hit in the face by shotgun pellets, the other was struck in the arm. In that case, both survived.
That was not the case in Boone in May, when a 13-hour standoff ended with two deputies fatally shot.
The man who shot them also killed his mother and stepfather before apparently killing himself.
Sgt. Chris Ward died at a hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee, after the shooting while K-9 Officer Logan Fox died at the scene. They had answered a call for a 'welfare check' when neighbors expressed concern for the couple and suspected their son might have harmed them.
Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman said “The officers thought they were going into one situation and encounted another when the suspect was there.”
A Boone Police officer, a Boone firefighter and an Appalachian State University police officer were also were shot at during an attempt to rescue the deputies. The Boone police officer was hit, but he escaped injury because of his Kevlar helmet.
Howell, a Bronze Star recipient for his service with the Army during the Vietnam War had served two years with the Lincoln County Sheriff's Office when he was killed. The road on which the Sheriff's Office is located is named in his honor.