Officers across the country felt loss of a fellow deputy
But as every law enforcement officer is trained to remember, even the most ordinary situations can change in a heartbeat.
As Mast and Deputy Preston Russell responded to a home on Hardin Road during the early morning hours of July 26, Mast was shot and killed, a startling reminder of the risks officers must take each day.
Now, law enforcement officers from throughout the region and beyond are stepping up to help Sheriff Len Hagaman and his department in their time of need.
At Mast’s funeral Tuesday, officers poured in from locations near and far, towns such as Lumberton, Asheville, Maiden, Lenoir, Chapel Hill — even Pittsburgh, Pa.
“All these counties are jumping in, helping out and doing everything we can to help Sheriff Hagaman during this time,” said Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye. “Law enforcement is almost like a brotherhood, and when a fellow officer gets killed in the line of duty, all officers respond to it.”
There was little indication that the call last week would be the last for Officer 123.
At approximately 12:50 a.m. Thursday, the Watauga County 911 Communications Center received an open line 911 call, meaning the line was connected, but no one was speaking.
Mast and Russell were dispatched to a mobile home at 2130 Hardin Road in Deep Gap, and the duo arrived on the scene at 1:04 a.m., according to the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office.
Within minutes, a person fired upon the officers, and Mast was wounded, the sheriff’s office reported. His partner returned fire, striking the shooter.
Within minutes, Deep Gap first responders, Watauga Medics and additional deputies responded to the scene, making efforts to save the two wounded men.
Both Mast and the suspect, 33-year-old Mitchell Allen Trivette, were pronounced dead upon arrival at Watauga Medical Center. The funeral for Trivette, a self-employed carpenter, was held at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Pilot Mountain Baptist Church.
The State Bureau of Investigation was notified of the shooting at 1:38 a.m. that morning, and agents took over the investigation.
SBI spokeswoman Jennifer Canada and local law enforcement officers have not provided any further information about the incident or what might have led to the shootout.
Despite many unanswered questions, word of the tragedy quickly spread throughout the law enforcement community.
Jill Keene, a magistrate and physical fitness leader for Mast’s Basic Law Enforcement Training class in 2009, received the news from officers in Caldwell County.
“We’re all just kind of a big family, and if something happens to one of us, it’s all of us — whether we see each other every day or not,” Keene said.
When Mast started the 16 weeks of physical training for BLET, he quickly stood out among the group members, she remembered.
“He’s one of the few who came in prepared physically, and unfortunately, that is rare,” she said with a laugh. “Anything he was told to do, he did it without question and excelled at it.”
In class, he earned a nickname on the first day — “Willie M.” — a sign that he was well-liked among the instructors, she said.
“We knew he had potential and we knew he was a good kid, so we know he had to have a funny name,” Keene said.
Even those who didn’t know Mast as directly felt the loss of a fellow officer.
Frye said several Avery County deputies also worked in Watauga County over the weekend and will continue into this week.
“Anytime a tragedy like this occurs in the law enforcement community … it stretches our resources extremely thin,” Frye said.
The extra staffing at the sheriff’s office helped ensure that Mast’s co-workers could attend his funeral Tuesday and take time to grieve.
Ashe County Sheriff James Williams also offered dispatchers, jailers and law enforcement as temporary replacements.
Williams said his department has experienced a couple of close calls involving officer safety in recent years and said that he understood the emotions the Watauga officers were feeling.
“I think the sheriff’s kind of like a parent, you know; you worry about your kids,” Williams said. “Every night, I pray they’ll be OK.”