Columbus County, NC – A North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper was murdered by a gunman during a traffic stop early on Wednesday morning.
Bladen County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Larry Guyton identified the fallen officer as Trooper Kevin Conner, WRAL reported.
Trooper Conner was murdered at approximately 12:15 a.m. on Oct. 17 on U.S. Highway 701 near Sellers Road, when he stopped the driver of a white GMC pickup for speeding, North Carolina State Highway Patrol Sergeant Michael Baker told reporters at a press conference.
“The driver of that vehicle fired several shots, striking the trooper,” Sgt. Baker said.
According to the Tabor-Loris Tribune, "multiple law enforcement sources" confirmed that Trooper Conner was "found in the roadway."
He was rushed to Columbus Regional Healthcare in Whiteville, but was then transferred to the New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, where he died of his injuries.
The suspect fled the scene and drove to Fair Bluff, where local police attempted to stop him, Sgt. Baker said.
The driver refused to pull over and led Fair Bluff police on a pursuit.
The gunman’s pickup ultimately “became disabled” on a set of railroad tracks, so he took off on foot.
“He was apprehended by authorities [at approximately 4 a.m.] after an extensive search,” Sgt. Baker said.
Sgt. Baker said the identity of the gunman will be released during a later press conference.
“Please keep the Highway Patrol, the trooper’s family, and the entire organization in your thoughts and prayers as we are definitely grieving as a result of our loss,” Sgt. Baker said.
“It is with the heaviest of hearts this morning that we learn the passing of Trooper Kevin Conner," the Bladen County Sheriff's Office said in a now-deleted Facebook post, according to WECT. "Many will say [he] was the nicest guy you would ever meet and the ones that knew Kevin and family would agree."
"Far to [sic] often we [hear] these stories and it never puts into perspective the danger officers face everyday until it hits close to home," the post continued. "If [you’re] family of an officer love them and tell them before [they] leave for work. You never know when it’s [their] last shift. Rest Easy Brother.... We have it from here.”
Southeastern Community College, where Trooper Conner's wife Miranda is employed, released a statement in support of the fallen hero's family on Wednesday morning.
"I am extremely sad to inform you of a terrible tragedy. Miranda Conner's husband, State Trooper Kevin Conner, was killed in the line of duty last night," the post read. "Words cannot express the depth of our feelings of sympathy and loss for Miranda and her family."
"The SCC community, Columbus County, and the State of North Carolina mourns with her. Please keep Miranda and her family in your thoughts and prayers during this unspeakably difficult time," the community college's post read.
Trooper Conner, an 11-year veteran of the state police, also leaves behind two young children, according to WVEC.
The fallen trooper made headlines in 2011, after he and Trooper Scott Floyd saved the lives of two drivers involved in a fiery head-on crash, WRAL reported.
Both drivers were pinned in their vehicles when the fire erupted in one of the mangled cars.
As he tended to the trapped driver, Trooper Conner doused the flames using his patrol car's fire extinguisher, and both drivers were ultimately extricated and taken to a hospital by air ambulance.
According to authorities, the troopers' swift actions saved the motorists' lives.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of North Carolina State Highway Patrol Trooper Kevin Conner, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Trooper Kevin Conner, your life mattered.