Escaped Idaho inmate possibly tied to deaths of 83-year-old man and another resident

Skylar Meade escaped from corrections officers after an accomplice ambushed them while they were transporting Meade back from a Boise hospital.

A heavy police presence gathers outside of the Twin Falls Court House while two of the suspects in an attack on corrections officers at a Boise, Idaho, hospital
AP Photo/Kyle Green

Authorities are investigating whether the deaths of an 83-year-old man who was walking his dogs and a 72-year-old man who lived in a remote cabin are connected to the escape of an Idaho white supremacist prison gang member and an accomplice after a Boise hospital ambush.

The escaped prisoner, Skylar Meade, and the accomplice, a recently released inmate named Nicholas Umphenour — both members of the Aryan Knights gang — were arrested in Twin Falls, Idaho, on Thursday afternoon. Their arrests came 36 hours after Umphenour shot and wounded two Idaho corrections officers while they were preparing to return Meade to prison from a hospital, police said.

Investigators said Thursday that while on the run, Meade and Umphenour may have been responsible for the deaths of two men, one in Nez Perce County and the other in Clearwater County, both in northern Idaho, about seven hours away from where they were arrested.

Coroners on Friday identified the victim in Nez Perce County as James L. Mauney, 83, of Juliaetta, who was reported missing on Wednesday when he left home in his silver Chrysler Pacifica minivan to take his two dogs — a white Jack Russell terrier and a brown Chesapeake Bay retriever — to a walking path.

“He’s my everything,” said his wife Liliia Mauney, her voice cracking.

One of his dogs, Leo, is also feeling Mauney’s absence. “He really misses him, he cries and goes out looking in the yard, looking for him,” she said Friday.

The victim in Clearwater County was Gerald Don Henderson, 72, who was found dead outside his remote cabin near Orofino.

“I can’t understand the senseless murder of this beautiful man,” Henderson's partner, Ron Thompson, told The Associated Press on Friday. “Such a senseless, senseless thing to do.”

Thompson said he and Henderson met Umphenour about a decade ago through another “neighbor kid” they had taken in. Umphenour, who was then in his late teens, was not getting along with his father, Thompson said, and he stayed at the cabin with Henderson and Thompson for about a month.

Living with Umphenour was frightening, Thompson said, because he “would always talk about shooting people.” The couple eventually kicked him out.

Thompson and Henderson met through a dating site in 2006 and had been life partners since, though Thompson moved out of the cabin in 2015 and resettled in Seattle because he grew tired of the isolated area. Henderson, who was 17 years older than Thompson, had difficulty sharing publicly that they were a couple in conservative Idaho, and the two never married.

Idaho law enforcement officials are searching for two inmates who escaped from Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center on Wednesday. Authorities say Skylar Meade and his accomplice shot and injured two corrections officers during their escape and should be considered armed and dangerous.

“It was not unknown that we were a couple, but we just never talked about it,” he said.

They dreamed of moving back in together, he said.

About a month ago, Umphenour — fresh out of prison, where he served time on theft and gun convictions — trudged through deep snow to spend an hour at the cabin with Henderson, drinking coffee and talking. Henderson felt uneasy about the visit and wasn't sure why Umphenour had come, Thompson said.

On Wednesday, when Thompson learned that Umphenour had been linked to Meade’s escape from the hospital, he grew worried and called the sheriff's office to request that deputies check in on Henderson.

Police found him dead outside his home, where they also found what may have been the escaped prisoner's shackles, Clearwater County Coroner Dennis Fuller said Friday.

Fuller described Thompson as “a kindly old man who took in some ne’er-do-well guys and tried to help them.”

Mead and Umphenour made initial court appearances Friday, along with a woman who drove one of the two vehicles they were traveling in when they were arrested, a minivan and a pickup truck, said Twin Falls Police Lt. Terance Thueson. Meade and Umphenour were being held on $2 million bond.

The woman, identified as Tonia Huber, was charged with harboring a fugitive, eluding police and drug possession. Idaho Fifth Judicial District Judge Ben Harmer set her bail at $500,000 after a prosecutor said she had driven 100 mph (161 kmh) through Twin Falls neighborhoods as she tried to evade police Thursday.

None of the three entered pleas.

Meade, 31, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2017 for shooting at a sheriff’s sergeant during a high-speed chase. Umphenour was released from the same prison — the Idaho Maximum Security Institution in Kuna, south of Boise — in January. The two had at times been housed together, were both members of the Aryan Knights prison gang, and had mutual friends in and out of prison, officials said.

The attack on the Idaho Department of Correction officers came just after 2 a.m. Wednesday in the ambulance bay of Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center, as they were preparing to return Meade to the prison. He had been brought to the hospital earlier in the night because he injured himself, officials said.

After the ambush, one officer shot by Umphenour was in critical but stable condition, police said, while the second wounded officer had serious but non-life-threatening injuries. A third corrections officer also sustained non-life-threatening injuries when a responding police officer — mistakenly believing the shooter was still in the emergency room and seeing an armed person near the entrance — opened fire.

Correction Director Josh Tewalt said Thursday one guard had been released from the hospital, and the conditions of the other two are stable and improving.

The department is reviewing its policies and practices in light of the escape, he said. The attack came amid a wave of gun violence at hospitals and medical centers, which have struggled to adapt to the rise of threats.

“We’re channeling every resource we have to trying to understand exactly how they went about planning it,” Tewalt said.

Recently, Meade had been held in a type of solitary confinement called administrative segregation because officials deemed him a severe security risk, Tewalt said.

The Aryan Knights prison gang formed in the mid-1990s in Idaho. In court documents federal prosecutors described it as a “scourge” within the state’s prison system.

“The hate-fueled gang engages in many types of criminal activity and casts shadows of intimidation, addiction, and violence over prison life,” prosecutors wrote.


Johnson reported from Seattle and Thiessen from Anchorage, Alaska.

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