When tragedy hits home
Tuesday, 11 September 2012 15:14

A Midland County Sheriff’s Office armored personnel carrier approaches Madison’s home early Thursday morning (Aug. 2) in a continued attempt to have Madison surrender on his own. Snipers and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers kept aim on Madison’s home as the assistant police chief drove into the front yard. The assistant police chief was forced to back away from the house just after 8 a.m. after they received no response. Photo by J.L. Mankin/The Big Lake Wildcat.

Big Lake paper covers 17-hour standoff while

mourning the loss of a loved one

By This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it | Texas Press Messenger

Tragedy struck Big Lake last month. The Reagan County deputy sheriff was killed.

In a community like Big Lake, the deputy sheriff is never just the deputy sheriff – he’s family. And to one local journalist who helped cover the story, including a 17-hour standoff with the suspect, he was a brother-in-law.

J.L. Mankin was driving down Main Street with his wife, Jacy, and their two-year-old on the first day of August when he came across a patrol car with its lights on. Mankin, a reporter and photographer for The Big Lake Wildcat, was naturally curious and decided to follow the vehicle.

About half a block down Main Street, the patrol car pulled into an alleyway and officers exited the vehicle carrying assault rifles.

Mankin pulled over and got out. Moments later his mother-in-law pulled up behind them. She had been listening on her scanner – Jacy’s brother, 26-year-old Reagan County Deputy Sheriff Josh Mitchell, had been shot.

“At that time we didn’t know if there was still an active shooter,” Mankin said. “I noticed there were kids out at the swimming pool, which was just across the street. I yelled at them to get inside. Then I realized I had my two-year-old and my wife right there, so we all hopped in the car and got away, because I didn’t know if the guy was just shooting to shoot.” 

The primary suspect, Mark Madison of Big Lake, allegedly shot Mitchell in the side as he walked around the back of his patrol car to speak with him about a complaint. Madison refused to surrender to local law enforcement and barricaded himself in his father’s home on Main Street, the Wildcat reported.

Mitchell called for backup, fled to a nearby yard and took cover between two homes, where he was found by officers and Emergency Medical Service volunteers. He was taken by ambulance to Reagan Memorial Hospital just a few blocks away.

Mankin and his family followed the ambulance to the hospital. He decided it was time to call Marla Daugherty, who was editor of the paper at the time, for help in covering the story. Daugherty was on her way to San Angelo when she got the call.

“In my mind – and she said in her mind – the whole thing was going to be over before she was able to get back to town,” Mankin said.

Daugherty arrived on the scene and was able to secure a spot on the roof of an adjacent home, a position she was able to hold even as local law enforcement began to push people back. She spent about five hours lying on the roof that night, surveying the scene and taking photographs, and was back up on the roof the next morning, Daugherty said.

Meanwhile, Mankin stayed at the hospital with his family. Mitchell was to be taken by helicopter to a hospital in San Angelo, but there were complications. He died at the Big Lake hosptial on Aug. 1.

When Mankin and his family returned to the scene later that day, they were allowed inside the perimeter and positioned themselves between two fire trucks parked on the corner of the block.

Early in the standoff, Reagan County officers entered the home to find Madison. Madison allegedly opened fire, gunfire was exchanged and the officers left the house, the paper reported.

After that, the Texas Department of Public Safety took over and by the next morning, two armored personnel carriers and a SWAT team from Austin arrived on scene.

On the morning of Aug. 2, law enforcement attempted to determine Madison’s location inside the house but were unsuccessful. About 11 a.m. the SWAT team started deploying tear gas and concussion grenades.

“It’s kind of wild sitting there feeling the earth shake underneath you,” Mankin said.

Mankin admitted he had doubts up until that point about whether Madison was still alive – a rumor had been circulating that he was injured in the first raid on the home.

“Then someone said over the scanner that he was about to be at the front door,” Mankin said. “He came out the front … massive head wound. They directed him to lie down after they got him to the driveway and he lay down. That’s when he was arrested.”

Mankin said the gunshot wound was reported as self-inflicted. Madison died five days later at a hospital in San Angelo.

“I like taking pictures. It’s what I do and it just kept me busy and made me feel less helpless,” he said. “I had the camera on him that whole time. I worked my way up the street as they took him to the ambulance. I was just shooting as quick as I could. I could see something was wrong with this guy. Once I got my camera back and looked at the photos, it was just horrifying.”

The Wildcat was one of the few, if not the only, news organizations to get a shot of Madison surrendering. Most of the media was not allowed inside the perimeter. They were restricted to 12th Street, beyond the command post, he said.

“I think being as involved as we were gave us the access to the spot we were sitting in,” he explained. “When we were sitting there by the fire trucks, several of our fire department guys had their scanners and they had some channels programmed that we weren’t aware of. There was plenty of radio traffic and word of mouth from everybody talking to each other.”

The photo of Madison surrendering was immediately posted online by The Wildcat and attracted a lot of attention, but the paper chose not to publish it in print.

“I just wanted to show a different part of the story on the front page – it had already been a week,” Mankin said. “It did sink in a little bit that the man does have family here. Of course it weighed on my heart, but every decision that was made here was run through my father, who is our publisher, and I always say that if he’s comfortable with it, then I trust his judgment 100 percent.”

Mankin and Daugherty both expressed gratitude for the support provided by friends in the newspaper community, including Mankin’s parents, Randy and Kathy Mankin, owners of the Wildcat and The Eldorado Success; Melissa Perner, editor and publisher of The Ozona Stockman, who helped them keep their readers informed by updating The Wildcat’s Facebook page; and Amanda Leija, reporter and photographer for the Brownwood Bulletin, who covered the funeral for the staff.

“Big Lake and Ozona are only 40 miles apart,” Perner said in an email. “We often help each other out in emergency situations. When J.L. called and told us what all was happening, we didn’t hesitate to help. Getting information out on Facebook and Twitter was our way of keeping both communities informed.

“By working together we were able to provide the best and most accurate information to our communities. We also appreciate the work Brownwood did. Social media was utilized well between all three newspapers and the coverage was fantastic. It just shows that great news coverage can be achieved by working together.”


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