A deputy U.S. marshal from Mississippi was killed Tuesday morning at a north Baton Rouge motel while attempting to arrest Jamie D. Croom, a New Roads man accused of gunning down a pair of siblings last month outside a Pointe Coupee Parish nightclub.
Federal law enforcement authorities said Croom, who was wanted on two counts of first-degree murder, shot and killed deputy U.S. Marshal Josie Wells at about 11 a.m. while the deputy and a team of law enforcement authorities were trying to capture Croom.
Wells, 27, was taken to a hospital where he later died. Croom also was taken to a hospital. As of Tuesday night, Croom’s condition was unknown.
“Unfortunately we had a tragic situation here today,” said an emotional Kevin Harrison, the U.S. marshal for the Middle District of Louisiana, which includes Baton Rouge, when addressing reporters Tuesday afternoon near the scene of the shooting on Elmgrove Garden Drive.
A few hours later, the FBI filed a warrant for the arrest of Croom, accusing the New Roads man of shooting at law enforcement officers — Wells among them — as they were trying to apprehend him at the motel. Croom fatally shot Wells with a handgun, the warrant says.
No other details about the shooting were released by the numerous law enforcement agencies involved in the matter. The Baton Rouge Police Department and the FBI are conducting a joint investigation into the shooting, but several other agencies also are involved.
Wells joined the U.S. Marshals Service in 2011 after graduating from Jackson State University with a degree in criminal justice. While at the school, he participated in the marshals’ Centralized Student Career Experience Program, which at the time was known as the “co-op” program, said Shirley M. Collins, a secretary at JSU’s Department of Criminal Justice and Sociology.
“He was very well known around the department,” Collins said. “He was a good student. Every time he saw me, he was always happy, smiling.”
Collins said Wells often returned to the school to visit his former professors. He would stop by her desk just to chat and catch up with her.
“He was a really good person that you would just love to be around,” Collins said. “Always positive. He was so excited to get his job with the marshals.”
Collins said Wells “died doing what he loved,” and “he will be greatly missed.”
Wells went to high school in southern Mississippi and comes from a law enforcement family, according to the Sun Herald in Biloxi and Gulfport. His father, Obie Wells Sr., had retired from the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, while his brother Obie Wells Jr., works for the Jackson Police Department.
Wells’ death and Croom’s subsequent capture occurred in a mostly residential neighborhood in Scotlandville just north of Interstate 110 and east of La. 19. Several schools are nearby, including Progress Elementary School, which was put on lockdown briefly in the aftermath of the shooting, said Keith Bromery, an East Baton Rouge Parish School System spokesman.
Ryan Elementary School, which is just north of the motel on Elmgrove Garden Drive, along with Scotlandville Middle Academy, also were notified about the incident. Neither school went on lockdown, Bromery said.
The Elm Grove Motel, mostly hidden from the road by red brick walls, lies among a smattering of homes and tall trees along Elmgrove Garden Drive and the surrounding streets. A woman who answered the phone at the motel on Tuesday declined to comment.
Area residents, though, described the motel as an unwelcome business in their neighborhood.
“It’s a rat hole,” said Patrick LaFleur, whose backyard basically juts up against the back of the motel. “That’s got to go,” he said.
Wells’ death came during the culmination of a weeks-long hunt for Croom, a convicted felon wanted in the Feb. 18 killings of Lechelle Rita Williams, 42, and her 38-year-old brother Sinica Lee Williams, both of New Roads. Croom had only been out of jail for a few months at the time of the shooting in February.
Latonia Croom Duncan, Jamie Croom’s older sister, said Tuesday that she did not know her brother’s condition.
She said the slaying of the Williams siblings last month was the result of a feud between the Croom and Williams families. In the aftermath of the killings, Jamie Croom told his sister that he refused to go back to jail, even if it meant “suicide by cop,” Duncan said.
Duncan said she informed authorities about her brother’s intentions prior to Tuesday morning’s shooting.
“He said he wasn’t going to turn himself in,” Duncan said.
Advocate staff writers Terry L. Jones, Daniel Bethencourt, Joe Gyan and Charles Lussier contributed to this report.