Twin Falls, Idaho: 2 murders may be linked to escaped inmate and accomplice who were caught after chase, police say
Twin Falls, Idaho: 2 murders may be linked to escaped inmate and accomplice who were caught after chase, police say


Police are investigating two murders that could potentially be linked to an Idaho inmate and an accomplice who allegedly helped him escape a hospital visit Wednesday by shooting at state prison officers, police said.

After a 36-hour manhunt, inmate Skyler Mead and alleged shooter Nicholas Umphenor were captured Thursday afternoon in Twin Falls, Idaho, two hours from where Mead escaped while being discharged from St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, authorities said. .

The coordinated attack and escape happened early Wednesday morning as Mead was being escorted from the hospital by corrections officers who had taken him there the night before after he engaged in “self-injurious behavior” at the maximum security facility in Idaho, according to Josh Tewalt , director of the Idaho Department of Corrections.

The three Idaho corrections officers escorting him were attacked by a gunman who shot two of them before the inmate and his accomplice fled in a getaway car, police said.

After Mead and Umphenor were captured, police announced Thursday that they were investigating two “potentially escape-related” homicides that occurred in the past 24 hours at separate locations in Nez Perce and Clearwater counties.

Mead’s handcuffs were found at one of the murder scenes, and the men were in possession of one of the victims’ cars, according to Lt. Col. Sheldon Kelly of the Idaho State Police. The county coroner will later release details about the men’s identities and how they died, he said.

The two suspects were apprehended “before their path of destruction became wider,” Boise Police Chief Ron Winegar said during Thursday’s news conference.

In addition to the two officers allegedly shot by the suspect, officials said a third correctional officer was injured by gunfire from a responding officer. Two of the officers were in the hospital in stable condition Thursday, and the third officer was released Wednesday evening, Tewalt said.

Here’s what we know about the escape and the investigation so far:

Mead and Umphenor have ties to the white supremacist Aryan Knights group, according to Tewalt. The Aryan Knights are a white supremacist prison gang based primarily in Idaho, according to the Anti-Defamation League. It’s “one of the many security threat groups” the Idaho Department of Corrections monitors, Tewalt said.

In addition to ties to the white supremacist group, Mead and Umphenor had mutual acquaintances in custody and in the community, according to Tewalt. The men also shared housing at some point in prison between Dec. 29, 2020, and Umphenour’s release on Jan. 17, 2024, Tewalt said.

Mead was convicted in October 2016 of battery on a law enforcement officer. He has numerous prior convictions, Weinger said, and is a documented gang member. He was due to be released in 2036.

Mead has the numbers “1” and “11” tattooed on his face, a reference to the band, Weinger noted.

More information about Umfenor’s criminal history and his time in prison will be released in the coming days, authorities said at Thursday’s news conference.

Umphenour is now charged with battery on law enforcement and aiding and abetting escape, according to a police release Wednesday.

“Their involvement in a gang doesn’t necessarily mean it’s some sort of gang-sanctioned event,” Tewalt said at the news conference.

Sarah A. Miller/Idaho Statesman via AP

A police car is parked outside Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, Idaho, Wednesday, March 20, 2024.

Law enforcement officials said they would investigate exactly how the escape occurred while the inmate was in custody.

“This was a planned event, and we’re directing every resource we have and trying to figure out exactly how they planned it,” Tewalt said.

Before the escape, two corrections staff members rode with Mead in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and a pursuit vehicle followed, Tewalt said. In a high-risk situation like Mead’s visit to the hospital, Tewalt said, the inmate is usually flanked by two unarmed staff members, and an armed officer follows to keep watch. Mead was in restraints while being escorted from the hospital, Tewalt said.

Correctional officers were preparing to take Mead back to the Idaho maximum-security facility — about 11 miles away — when the gunman opened fire on officers shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday, hitting two of them, Winegar said. Mead and Umphenor then fled the scene in a getaway car just before police arrived, authorities said.

The third correctional officer was wounded by gunfire from a responding officer who believed the shooter was in the emergency room and saw a gunman near the door, officials said.

Authorities said responding police officers on Wednesday initially thought it was an active shooter at the hospital and rushed to ensure the safety of people inside the building. The hospital was locked down for a while and later resumed operations, police said.

“This brazen, violent and apparently coordinated attack on Idaho Department of Corrections personnel to facilitate the escape of a dangerous inmate was carried out right outside the emergency room where people come for medical care, often in the most dire circumstances, Weinger said in a news release after the shooting. “I am thankful that this harrowing incident did not result in loss of life and we are watching the injured IDOC staff with great hope for a full and speedy recovery for all involved.”

Law enforcement in Idaho has launched an investigation and search for the escaped inmate and shooting suspect Wednesday morning, police said in a news release.

“This investigation has grown tremendously over the last 24 to 36 hours to include a number of different entities and crimes in the state of Idaho,” Winegar said during Thursday’s press conference.

Detectives eventually located the Honda Civic used in the getaway near Leland, Idaho, police said. Law enforcement said the capture was successful thanks to “hundreds of tips from the public,” according to Thursday’s news release.

Idaho State Police say they will continue to investigate the killings and provide updates on those investigations and suspects as Boise police investigate an inmate escape and the Ada County Sheriff’s Office investigates the officer-involved shooting, the release said.

Less than 1 percent of inmates escape each year, said Jeff Mellow, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Considering how difficult it is for people to escape from prison, Mellow suspects that someone leaked information that Mead would be visiting the hospital. Even with extensive security measures in place, correctional officers must exercise extreme vigilance at all times, Mellow added.

Because of his history, Mead had more security at the hospital than their usual protocol, Tewalt said.

“From our initial review of the events, the facility’s management in authorizing this transport and augmentation of resources, as well as the conduct and performance of our staff and the execution of this transport, were fully consistent with our policies and practices,” Tewalt said.

“We feel really comfortable at this point in saying that our policies have been followed … they’ve actually gone above and beyond,” Tewalt said.

Tewalt, however, said his office will review whether employees are adhering to policies and practices and “whether our policies and practices are sufficient to place our staff in a position to maintain their safety and security.”

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