The reporters wanted to know how Michael Elliot managed to pull it off.
“Quick thinking,” the recent prison escapee said outside an Indiana court earlier this week.
There’s probably more to it than that. Elliot may be nimble of mind, but wits alone didn’t enable his escape from the Ionia Correctional Facility. Suffice it to say the security apparatus failed, and somebody in the chain of command is not having the best of weeks, career-wise.
A Michigan prison break was news here because Elliot, a convicted murderer, made his way to northern Indiana. Investigators link Elliot to a vehicle theft and church break-in in Middlebury, and to an abandoned vehicle in Shipshewana.
Local residents had a right to be on edge. Elliot’s apprehension in LaPorte County was a welcome development, to say the least.
Quick thinking may have been a factor in Elliot’s escape. It was also key to curtailing his crime spree. So were the efforts of local law enforcement.
ELLIOT HAD A HOSTAGE, Cheryl Van Wormer, when he crossed the state line in a stolen Jeep Liberty. Van Wormer managed to call 911 out of Elliot’s earshot, and connected with LaGrange County dispatcher Heather Lock.
Lock provided spot-on, expert counsel to Van Wormer while her shift partner, Kelly Landers, was in communication with Elkhart County emergency staff. This cross-county coordination was quick, efficient and ultimately yielded a safe Van Wormer. We applaud our emergency and police professionals on both sides of the county line.
The discovery of the stolen Jeep in Shipshewana prompted a manhunt in that small town, as well as concern for some of its must vulnerable residents.
Local schools were placed on lockdown. We were at the scene at Shipshewana-Scott Elementary School at dismissal time. What we saw impressed us.
The presence of town and Indiana State Police left no question this was serious business, and security was the order of the day. But a balance seemed to be struck with keeping the little ones at ease. School administrators calmly ushered the pupils to waiting buses or to the grown-ups who’d come to take them home.
Rebekah Arbuckle has children who attend Shipshewana-Scott. She praised the job police and school personnel did that day.
“I knew my kids were safe,” she told The News. She was right.
DURING A PRESS CONFERENCE at the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department, Lock was asked if she felt like a hero. She was modest in her reply.
“Our job is to help protect and serve our community,” Lock said. “And (Van Wormer) was somebody who needed my help, and that’s what I was trained to do.”
Emergency response is no ordinary job. Done well, it involves situation assessment coupled with quick, correct action. For officers in the field, there’s also no small amount of danger.
To Lock — and everyone this community relies on to be cool in a crisis — we say thanks.