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WAYMART — Officials with the union that represents federal prison guards say a Nanticoke man who was killed by an inmate at the federal prison at Canaan was working alone when he was fatally beaten and stabbed.


Eric Williams, 34, was pronounced dead at a hospital around 11:30 p.m. after he was found in a housing unit by another guard who had gone to assist him, said Phillip Glover, regional vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals, the union that represents prison guards.


Williams was preparing for a head count when he was attacked by an inmate who beat him and stabbed him multiple times with a homemade weapon, Glover said. Prison officials said other guards immediately restrained the inmate.


An autopsy performed Tuesday revealed that Williams, 34, suffered blunt head and neck trauma and multiple stab wounds and cuts. Lackawanna County Coroner Timothy Rowland ruled Williams’ death a homicide.


Williams is the 24th federal prison employee to be killed in the line of duty since 1901. The last fatality occurred at the federal prison in Atwater, Calif., in 2008, when guard Jose Rivera was stabbed to death, according to the Bureau of Prisons.


The federal prison at Canaan, Wayne County, which opened in 2005, is a maximum-security facility that also has a satellite campus for minimum-security inmates. The homicide occurred in the maximum-security unit.


“This is clearly the darkest day in our institution’s short history, and we are in shock over this senseless loss of a colleague and friend,” Warden David Ebbert said in a prepared statement.


Prison officials released few details about the attack. They did not identify the inmate responsible, or indicate what might have led to the assault. The FBI has been assigned to investigate the incident, which remains under investigation.


An FBI spokesman in Philadelphia declined comment, saying details would be released when the inmate is charged. It wasn’t immediately clear when that would happen.


Williams began his career with the bureau on Sept. 11, 2011. His sister said he graduated from King’s College with a criminal justice degree and worked in supermarket loss prevention and as a police officer before going to work in the federal prison system. “It was more of a stable job,” she said.


She said they spoke nearly every day and he never reported any problems at work. In fact, “he said he was kind of bored sometimes,” Lauren Williams said.


Eric Williams, who was single, loved to hunt, fish, play soccer and go bowling, and renovated a house near Lily Lake, a state-owned lake about 15 minutes from the family homestead in Nanticoke. In addition to his sister, he’s survived by his parents and two other brothers.


Union officials critical


Glover and two other union officials, Dale Deshotel and Gary Mills, said the federal prison system has been plagued by overcrowding for years. Nationwide, maximum-security facilities are 51 percent over capacity on average, they said.


The union has repeatedly cautioned the Bureau of Prisons that the situation was endangering prison staff.


“It’s a powder keg getting ready to explode,” said Mills, the union’s national legislative coordinator. “This was our biggest fear. Nobody wants to lose anybody. We are terribly saddened, angry and frustrated.”


Deshotel, the union president, said he had just sent an email to a prison official on Monday warning that the system was facing a “crisis situation.”


“I cautioned them not to wait until someone is hospitalized or gets killed before they do something,” Deshotel said. “Not less than 24 hours later we lost an officer.”


Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, declined to address specific allegations raised by union officials. Speaking generally, he said the safety of staff “is one of our most important concerns.”


“We do everything we can to reduce risk associated with line of work we are in,” Burke said.


Williams had worked the Canaan facility since September 2011. He had previously worked as a police officer, according to his mother, Jean Williams.


“He loved working at the prison,” Jean Williams said in a phone interview Tuesday.


Williams described her son, who was single, as an “outdoorsman” who loved to play soccer, hunt and fish.


“It’s a real shock,” she said. “We are trying to be strong.”


Williams said she was notified of her son’s death Tuesday morning. She said prison officials had not provided much information about the circumstances that led to the fatal attack.


“I haven’t been told anything, only that he was attacked by an inmate,” she said.


In an interview with The Associated Press, Williams’ sister, Lauren Williams, spoke of the senselessness of his death.


“There was just no reason , no reason at all,” Williams said. “There wasn’t a mean bone in his body. He was not confrontational at all. He’s never been in a fight.”


Deshotel said he does not have all the details of the attack, but he is questioning whether Williams might have been able to better defend himself if he had been equipped with safety gear.


The union has been fighting for years to allow guards to carry gear to protect themselves, including pepper spray, but the Bureau of Prisons has resisted, he said. The bureau, as part of a pilot program, allowed guards in seven facilities to begin carrying pepper spray last year. Canaan was not among the prisons in that program.


Deshotel said the bigger concern is a lack of staffing. The union has repeatedly argued a guard should not be placed in a housing unit alone, as Williams was, but the Bureau of Prisons has continued the practice, citing cost concerns.


“In a U.S. penitentiary, these are not people who are here because they missed school. These are people who are violent. They are dangerous, and anything can trigger them,” he said. “It’s time the American people see … if you don’t staff a U.S. penitentiary properly, you put officer in harm’s way more than you have to.”ty unit.


“This is clearly the darkest day in our institution’s short history, and we are in shock over this senseless loss of a colleague and friend,” Warden David Ebbert said in a prepared statement.


Prison officials released few details about the attack. They did not identify the inmate responsible, or indicate what might have led to the assault. The FBI has been assigned to investigate the incident, which remains under investigation.


An FBI spokesman in Philadelphia declined comment, saying details would be released when the inmate is charged. It wasn’t immediately clear when that would happen.


Williams began his career with the bureau on Sept. 11, 2011. His sister said he graduated from King’s College with a criminal justice degree and worked in supermarket loss prevention and as a police officer before going to work in the federal prison system. “It was more of a stable job,” she said.


She said they spoke nearly every day and he never reported any problems at work. In fact, “he said he was kind of bored sometimes,” Lauren Williams said.


Eric Williams, who was single, loved to hunt, fish, play soccer and go bowling, and renovated a house near Lily Lake, a state-owned lake about 15 minutes from the family homestead in Nanticoke. In addition to his sister, he’s survived by his parents and two other brothers.


Union officials critical


Glover and two other union officials, Dale Deshotel and Gary Mills, said the federal prison system has been plagued by overcrowding for years. Nationwide, maximum-security facilities are 51 percent over capacity on average, they said.


The union has repeatedly cautioned the Bureau of Prisons that the situation was endangering prison staff.


“It’s a powder keg getting ready to explode,” said Mills, the union’s national legislative coordinator. “This was our biggest fear. Nobody wants to lose anybody. We are terribly saddened, angry and frustrated.”


Deshotel, the union president, said he had just sent an email to a prison official on Monday warning that the system was facing a “crisis situation.”


“I cautioned them not to wait until someone is hospitalized or gets killed before they do something,” Deshotel said. “Not less than 24 hours later we lost an officer.”


Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, declined to address specific allegations raised by union officials. Speaking generally, he said the safety of staff “is one of our most important concerns.”


“We do everything we can to reduce risk associated with line of work we are in,” Burke said.


Williams had worked the Canaan facility since September 2011. He had previously worked as a police officer, according to his mother, Jean Williams.


“He loved working at the prison,” Jean Williams said in a phone interview Tuesday.


Williams described her son, who was single, as an “outdoorsman” who loved to play soccer, hunt and fish.


“It’s a real shock,” she said. “We are trying to be strong.”


Williams said she was notified of her son’s death Tuesday morning. She said prison officials had not provided much information about the circumstances that led to the fatal attack.


“I haven’t been told anything, only that he was attacked by an inmate,” she said.


In an interview with The Associated Press, Williams’ sister, Lauren Williams, spoke of the senselessness of his death.


“There was just no reason , no reason at all,” Williams said. “There wasn’t a mean bone in his body. He was not confrontational at all. He’s never been in a fight.”


Deshotel said he does not have all the details of the attack, but he is questioning whether Williams might have been able to better defend himself if he had been equipped with safety gear.


The union has been fighting for years to allow guards to carry gear to protect themselves, including pepper spray, but the Bureau of Prisons has resisted, he said. The bureau, as part of a pilot program, allowed guards in seven facilities to begin carrying pepper spray last year. Canaan was not among the prisons in that program.


Deshotel said the bigger concern is a lack of staffing. The union has repeatedly argued a guard should not be placed in a housing unit alone, as Williams was, but the Bureau of Prisons has continued the practice, citing cost concerns.


“In a U.S. penitentiary, these are not people who are here because they missed school. These are people who are violent. They are dangerous, and anything can trigger them,” he said. “It’s time the American people see … if you don’t staff a U.S. penitentiary properly, you put officer in harm’s way more than you have to.”


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