Two Georgia inmates described as “dangerous beyond description” remained on the run Wednesday after their guards on a prison bus were disarmed and killed. Reward money for information leading to their arrests continued to grow.
Authorities said Donnie Russell Rowe, serving life without parole, and Ricky Dubose, who has prominent tattoos on his face and neck, were spotted twice on Tuesday after they overpowered, disarmed and killed Sgt. Christopher Monica and Sgt. Curtis Billue as the guards drove 33 inmates between prisons.
Their escape after carjacking a driver who happened to pull up behind the bus on a rural highway set off a massive manhunt involving local, state and federal officers, Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills said.
Sills was emotional as he described the initial scene to reporters.
“I saw two brutally murdered corrections officers, that’s what I saw,” he said. “I have their blood on my shoes.”
Authorities said the two inmates got into a “grass green,” four-door 2004 Honda Civic with the Georgia license plate number RBJ-6601 and drove west on state Highway 16 toward Eatonton, southeast of Atlanta. Hours later, the manhunt shifted about 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the north, to the city of Madison, where Sills said the two men burglarized a house and then two men fitting their descriptions were reportedly seen in a Family Dollar store less than a mile away.
Authorities had no further signs of the inmates and had no reason to believe they had split up, Sills said.
“We are still desperately looking for these two individuals. They are armed with 9 mm pistols that were taken from these correctional officers. They are dangerous beyond description. If anyone sees them or comes into contact, they need to call 911 immediately,” the sheriff said.
He urged the fugitives to turn themselves in. “They need to surrender before we find ’em,” Sills said.
The two got a head start by taking and tossing the Honda driver’s cellphone and leaving the other 31 prisoners locked inside the bus, Sills said.
“My biggest worry is they’re going to kill somebody else,” Sills said.
The reward for information leading to the arrests of Rowe, 43, and Dubose, 24, continued to grow. Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Nelly Miles said in an email Wednesday that multiple agencies have contributed $70,000.
Monica and Billue were both transfer sergeants at Baldwin State Prison. Monica had been with the Georgia Department of Corrections since October 2009 and Billue since July 2007.
How the two inmates managed to reach and overpower them is a matter for the Corrections Department to investigate, said Sills, insisting that all he cares about right now is bringing the fugitives to justice.
“They were inside the caged area of the bus,” he said. “How they got through the locks and things up to that area I do not know.”
The sheriff said the bus is equipped with video, and he’s watched it on a cellphone, but couldn’t tell which inmate fired the fatal shots at the guards.
Protocol is to have two armed corrections officers on the bus, but the officers don’t wear bullet-proof vests during transfers, Corrections Commissioner Greg Dozier said.
“We lost two of our fellow officers, two of our kin. We see our officers as our family,” Dozier said.
Monica was 42 and leaves behind a wife, Dozier said. Billue was 58 and is survived by his father, five sisters, two brothers and two sons, said Jim Green, an attorney who’s speaking for the Billue family.
“Officer Billue’s family asks for prayers for all of those who are now placing their own lives at risk to bring these men to justice and asks anyone who has information that may assist in apprehending these perpetrators to please contact law enforcement,” Green said in an email.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal pledged every state resource necessary to catch the pair, and vowed that the guards’ selflessness and sacrifice will not be forgotten.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said federal resources are being committed to help catch the fugitives. The FBI and U.S. Marshals have joined the investigation, Sills said.
Both escaped inmates were serving long sentences for armed robbery and other crimes. The Department of Corrections said Rowe has been serving life without parole since 2002, and Dubose began a 20-year sentence in 2015.
Associated Press writers Kathleen Foody in Atlanta and Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, contributed to this report.