HOMER – Amanda Leigh Carney looks happy and expectant in a white robe and golden stole, in a photo taken just a couple of months ago marking her graduation with 25 classmates from Summerfield High School.
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In the photo, posted to her mother's Facebook page, Amanda stands with her mom and younger sister on graduation day, May 8, all smiling broadly, reflecting pride in the accomplishments of a high school softball player and scholar soon to head off to college.
So. Much. Promise.
Amanda was killed Thursday afternoon by an inmate who had escaped from the David Wade Correctional Center, a state prison outside Homer, authorities said.
“There are no words to express," Shane Lee, Summerfield High's principal, said Friday.
He paused for a moment before continuing, then said: "We lost a student, an athlete and a person. Please be in prayer for the school and family.”
The prisoner, Deltra Henderson, walked away from a work detail, authorities said. He never made it much more than a mile from the prison and was free for only three or four hours before he was killed in a shootout with officers.
But somewhere in those hours he committed mayhem. He stole and wrecked two vehicles.
But that was the least of it. He also kidnapped and then stabbed to death Amanda – whom authorities said was the step-daughter of an assistant warden at the prison –leaving her body along a dirt track off Louisiana Highway 520 a mile or so northeast of the prison.
Her mother is Andrea Leigh Bell. Her father is James Arnold, according to the Claiborne Sheriff's Office and some news accounts, although it remained unclear whether Arnold was her father or step-father.
James Arnold is an assistant warden at the state prison, Claiborne Parish Sheriff Ken Bailey said. Bell, her mother, also works at the prison, according to the mother's Facebook page.
Bailey said the community is devastated. "Things like this just don't happen here," he said.
Amanda's grandparents were Mr. and Mrs. John Bell of Vicksburg, Mississippi, according to the Vicksburg Post.
Lee said the Summerfield High community was in mourning Friday over Amanda's death. A vigil is planned, although no date had been set. Classes resume on Aug. 9.
Praise for Amanda also came from Summerfield High's girls and boys basketball coach, Randy Carlisle.
"Amanda was a great role model who I enjoyed being around," he said. "Her sweet spirit will be missed greatly."
Amanda, whose age was given alternately as 18 and 19, planned to attend Southeastern Arkansas University in Magnolia in a few weeks.
Meanwhile, she was working at Brookshire's, first in Homer and more recently in Magnolia about 45 minutes away.
"She did a great job and we're all saddened to hear about her loss," said Hal Norman, store director in Homer. "She was a sweet girl."
While Homer’s Main Street is bustling with numerous businesses and surrounding neighborhoods, the prison, situated north on Bell Hill Road off Louisiana Highway 520, is in a more rural area about eight miles away.
The two-lane state highway leading to the prison road is mostly surrounded by woods, with only a few homes or buildings dotting the landscape.
Also Friday, authorities released a few additional details about events Thursday. Here's what is known about what occurred, based on information from the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the Claiborne Parish Sheriff's Office and USA Today Network journalists working Thursday evening and Friday in Homer:
Henderson, a trusty at the prison serving time for drug offenses, attempted robbery and aggravated burglary, walked away from his work assignment around 1 p.m. Prison authorities discovered his absence and a manhunt ensued around 1:40 p.m. Thursday.
Authorities believe that Henderson, 39, stole a vehicle and that he then abducted Amanda.
The abduction may have occurred from a small prison housing complex, where some prison employees live, directly across Bell Hill Road from the prison itself, along General Wade Lane. One of the houses there – a brick house, No. 104 – was surrounded early Friday with crime scene tape.
Soon after the abduction, Henderson crashed the vehicle in a remote area northeast of the prison, on a dirt road just off of Louisiana 520.
Amanda's body was later found near the wrecked vehicle. She had been stabbed to death, according to media reports.
Henderson then made contact with a resident in the area and stole another vehicle. Authorities did not say what they meant by "made contact with." The escapee then crashed the second vehicle.
The DOC statement said that authorities tried to capture Henderson peacefully, but that he fired shots at officers and they returned fire.
"The trusty subsequently made entry into a nearby residence and located an unsecured firearm," the sheriff's office said in a statement Friday morning. "As prison guards closed in on the residence, a gunfight ensued and the trusty barricaded himself in the residence."
The shootout appeared to have occurred at a mobile home at the Warden J.O. Whittington Firing Range, west of the prison along Bell Hill Road, according to the law-enforcement presence in that area Thursday evening and early Friday morning. The mobile home, along a gravel road, was surrounded early Friday with crime scene tape.
"Our hearts hurt today as we grieve, and mourn the loss of one of our own," James M. Le Blanc, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of this young lady, David Wade staff and all those affected by this tragedy."
Henderson had been locked up at the facility since June 4, 2001, for three different convictions. His sentences began a month earlier at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel on May 4, 2001.
They included: distribution of cocaine, 10 years concurrent, attempted armed robbery, 30 years concurrent; and aggravated burglary, 30 years concurrent.
Henderson had a good time release date of March 28, 2025.
Critical Incident Stress Management teams from the Louisiana State Penitentiary and Elayn Hunt Correctional Center were at David Wade Correctional Center Friday to provide counseling for employees and their family members, authorities said.
An investigation into the escape and homicide is underway. More information concerning the escape will be released as it becomes available.
Staff writers Bonnie Bolden, Barbara Leader, Ashley Mott, Jimmy Watson and Nick Wooten contributed to this report.
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