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Authorities capture escaped Idaho inmate and accomplice after manhunt and shooting that left 3 officers injured

An Idaho inmate and the accomplice who helped him escape from a hospital visit on Wednesday by shooting at state corrections officers were captured Thursday, ending a 36-hour manhunt, Boise Police Chief Ron Winegar said during a news conference.

The inmate, Skylar Meade, and the alleged shooter, Nicholas Umphenour, were captured around 2 p.m. local time in Twin Falls, Idaho, two hours away from where Meade escaped as he was discharged from Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, authorities said.

“There was a short vehicle pursuit, and both suspects were taken into custody separately,” Winegar said. “There were no shots fired or extensive use of force in this operation, for which we are thankful.”

The coordinated attack and escape occurred early Wednesday morning as Meade, who corrections officers had transported to the hospital the previous night after he engaged in “self-injurious behavior” at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution, was being escorted from the hospital.

The three Idaho corrections officers escorting him were ambushed with gunfire.

Skylar Meade. - Boise Police Department/Handout/AP
Skylar Meade. - Boise Police Department/Handout/AP

Two corrections staff members rode with Meade in the ambulance on the way to the hospital and a chase vehicle followed, said Josh Tewalt, director of the Idaho Department of Correction.

In a high-risk situation like Meade’s hospital visit, Tewalt said, an inmate is typically flanked by two unarmed staff members, with an armed staff member following to keep watch.

Corrections officers were preparing to take Meade back to the Idaho Maximum Security Institution – about 11 miles away – when the shooter fired at the officers, striking two of them, Winegar said.

Meade and Umphenour, who have ties to the White supremacist group Aryan Knights, according to Tewalt, fled the scene in a getaway car just before police arrived, authorities said.

The third corrections officer was wounded by gunfire from a responding police officer, who believed the shooter was inside the emergency department and saw an armed individual near the door, officials said.

Two of the officers were in the hospital in stable condition on Thursday and the third officer was released Wednesday night, Tewalt said.

Authorities said the responding police officers on Wednesday initially believed it was an active shooter event at the hospital and rushed in to ensure the safety of those in the building. The hospital locked down for a period of time and later resumed operations, police said.

Nicholas Umphenour - Boise Police Department
Nicholas Umphenour - Boise Police Department

Umphenour was identified as the alleged shooter in a police news release Wednesday. He is accused of aggravated battery against law enforcement and aiding and abetting an escape, according to the release.

In addition to the White supremacist group ties, Meade and Umphenour had common acquaintances in custody and in the community, according to Tewalt. The men also shared a housing unit at some point at the corrections facility between December 29, 2020, until Umphenour’s release on January 17, 2024, Tewalt said.

Additionally, two homicides are being investigated as “potentially tied” to the two suspects, according Lt. Colonel Sheldon Kelley of the Idaho State Police.

Two adult males were killed in separate incidents in Nez Perce County and Clearwater County, he said. Meade’s shackles were found at one of the homicide scenes and the men had possession of the car of one of the victims, according to Kelley.

The county coroners will later provide the identities for those who were killed and their cause of death, but no other information is being released at this time, he said.

An undated photo of Skylar Meade - City of Boise/Handout/AP
An undated photo of Skylar Meade - City of Boise/Handout/AP

Meade was sentenced in October 2016 for aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer with a firearm. He has many prior convictions, Winegar said, and is a documented gang member with ties to the Aryan Knights. He was due to be released in 2036.

The Aryan Knights is a White supremacist prison gang based primarily in Idaho, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Meade has the numbers “1” and “11” tattooed on his face, a reference to the group, Winegar noted.

Prison escapes are rare

Despite reports of some high-profile prison escapes across the US in recent years, experts say they are quite rare.

Jeff Mellow, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said his research shows less than 1% of incarcerated people escape every year.

“In the last decades, correctional agencies have done a much better job target hardening their prisons and jails, so it’s much more difficult for individuals to escape,” he said. Mellow suspects somebody leaked that Meade was going to visit the hospital.

“The overwhelming majority of individuals that escape are recaptured, and they are typically captured in a very short time after their escape,” Mellow said.

Even amid strong security measures, corrections officers have to practice extreme vigilance at all times, Mellow added.

“A prisoner, an escapee, only has to get lucky once,” he said.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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