NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Two deputies with the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office are reporting back to duty after an investigation by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation determined they were justified in fatally shooting a man who took a 9-year-old girl hostage and threatened her at knifepoint for over an hour.
“It is a tragedy anytime a life has to be taken,” Sheriff Ed McMahon said. “But I am convinced that night that a little 9-year-old girl’s life was saved by the actions of our deputies, and I’m very proud of how they responded to their training.”
On Nov. 16, according to District Attorney Ben David, Henry Timberlake Duncan, 43, kidnapped a young girl and was holding her at knifepoint in the front yard of where he was living, 977 Bozeman Rd. Upon arrival, deputies discovered a male victim, shot in the face, was suffering in a van.
“We believe he was taking her hostage because he knew that law enforcement’s arrival was imminent,” David explained during a Wednesday media conference in his office within the courthouse.
New Hanover County emergency services were dispatched to the scene of the crime around 8:31 p.m., arriving eight minutes after a 911 call was made about the abduction.
At first, deputies said they didn’t move toward Duncan out of fear of what he may do to the girl. Duncan was able to barricade himself and the girl inside a camper, holding the weapon to the child’s neck and making threats to kill her, according to David’s summary of events. Deputies reported noticing cuts on and around the girl’s neck and head.
At 9:22 p.m., the sheriff’s emergency response team was called in to negotiate with Duncan. Team members spent more than 40 minutes attempting to talk him down.
David’s summary states that by 10:06 p.m. Duncan started counting down from five, “indicating that he was about to do something drastic to the child.” At “one,” two members of the emergency response team fired one bullet each at the same time, killing Duncan on the scene.
Without injury from the gunfire, the child was rescued and taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, where she underwent multiple surgeries for her wounds.
“I understand that she’s doing a lot better,” David said.
The gunshot victim was transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. David did not have an update on his condition as of Wednesday. He said the victim and Duncan seem to have known each other but didn’t have specifics of their relationship.
“We have every reason to believe that Duncan did shoot the male,” David affirmed.
Law enforcement leaders did not point to a suspected motivation for the crimes that day.
“Obviously, that’s not subject to a criminal case at this point because it’ll be abated by his death,” David said. “Had he lived, he would have been charged with that attempted murder as well.”
Officials discovered Duncan was a registered sex offender in West Virginia and lived on the property under a fake name, unbeknownst to the landlord. WSAZ, a West Virginia news outlet, reported in 2015 Duncan had been charged over 90 times and state police acknowledged they couldn’t keep “constant watch” on him and he was free to travel when out of prison and off parole. Most recently, in 2017 he was found guilty of a 2015 incident in which he inappropriately touched girls near an elementary school. On the same day, he was caught masturbating in the junior’s department of a Macy’s, according to media reports. After officers arrived, he ran across the road and hid in a dumpster, resisting arrest.
Before that, he was sentenced for a 2013 incident involving two teenage girls at a Kohl’s.
David said he does not believe Duncan has family locally but welcomed any relatives to review the SBI file and ask questions.
“He was under a fictitious name, keep in mind,” David said. “We do believe we have his real identity, but we have not been able to locate any family in the area or any reason to believe that they’re reaching out to us.”
The sheriff confirmed the officers who fired their weapons had participated in close-quarters rescue training earlier in the day.
“The Lord worked that out very well,” McMahon said.
David shared that the deputies and the young girl were reunited recently, which he called “very good for her healing and that of these deputies.”
“My understanding is that was a special meeting for all involved. It reminds all of us of why we do what we do,” he said.
Following the incident, McMahon and David requested the State Bureau of Investigation review the case as an outside entity. Per protocol, the deputies were placed on administrative leave during the investigation.
After an examination with SBI officials in December of testimonial and physical evidence, David determined the deputies would not face criminal charges in the matter. Had they been charged, the case would have been presented to a grand jury. However, in the case there is no alleged crime by the deputies, David said his protocol is to explain the reasoning in a press conference.
“The force was not only to protect themselves but also to protect anyone else from additional harm, including and especially a 9-year-old child who had already been grievously injured by Duncan, and an adult male who Duncan had already shot in the head,” David said in prepared remarks during the news conference.
The district attorney called the actions “heroic.”
“The deputies responding to this tense scene had no choice but to shoot Duncan,” David continued. “They showed remarkable teamwork and acted consistently with how they are trained to respond in critical situations. These deputies took a life on Nov. 16, but they may very well have saved other lives in the process. Far from being criminally charged, they should be commended.”
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