A Long County man, Dudley Epling, 70, who lived in the Sand Hill area, held police at bay for several hours Sunday and then took his own life instead of surrendering to law enforcement authorities.
Long County Sheriff’s Department Detective Ty Smith said deputies Jimmy Middleton and Codie Futch responded to a domestic dispute call at about 10:30 a.m. on Plantation Road and were greeted with gunfire as they pulled up to the residence. Bullets reportedly pierced their vehicles.
The deputies exited their patrol cars, took cover and requested additional manpower. Both men were pinned down until more units arrived on scene.
“I think he was waiting on us, and the shots were steadily coming, I couldn’t return any fire because I didn’t know where he was,” Middleton said.
Middleton was also hesitant to shoot because he believed Epling’s wife, Dempley, 85, was in the home.
The deputy said the incident was the first time he had ever been fired upon.
“When he started firing at us, all I could think about was whether Codie was OK, and then about my wife and kids — mainly my wife and kids,” Middleton said.
Becky Laufman, one of Epling’s neighbors who was outside working on a fence with her husband when the deputies arrived at the scene, said she heard 13 shots fired.
“We saw the sheriff’s cars go by, and then we started hearing gun shots. It sounded like there were two different guns and we knew something was going on,” she said.
According to Long County Sheriff Cecil Nobles, Epling had four different loaded weapons in his house, and there were expended shotgun and rifle rounds found in the home.
After additional units from the sheriff’s department secured the area, they began evacuating the neighbors to safety. They also received additional resources from the Georgia State Patrol, the Tattnall County Sheriff’s Department and the State of Georgia SWAT Team.
At about 4 p.m., the SWAT team began addressing Epling with a loud speaker from an armored vehicle called the Peacemaker, hoping the elderly man would surrender.
“We don’t want anyone to get hurt.
I can guarantee your safety. We need you to help us resolve this. Leave the rifle inside and come on out,” a negotiator from the armored vehicle told Epling.
About 15 minutes later, Epling fired shots towards the Peacemaker. At that point the negotiator said, “Do not fire again. Do not make the situation worse.”
The SWAT team continued to try to convince Epling exit the residence.
At about 5 p.m., the SWAT team was able to move their armored vehicle up to the garage where Epling’s wife was standing, and they were able to remove her from the scene.
Thirty minutes later, the SWAT team began positioning the Peacemaker around the home and started firing tear gas into it.
Epling still did not respond or come out, so the team placed a battering ram on the front of the vehicle and knocked the front door down.
The team then sent a “little robot” into the home, and according to Capt. William Bryant, commander of the SWAT unit, Epling was unable to be located.
At about 7 p.m., the SWAT team entered the residence, and found Epling dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, Bryant said.
Smith later verified Epling suffered a gunshot wound to the head. According to Bryant, Epling had been involved in a similar incident three years ago. But at that time, the situation never escalated to gunshots being fired and ended peacefully.
Asked if he knew what prompted the standoff, Smith said Dempley Epling told authorities her husband had been drinking alcohol all day and he pointed a gun to her face.
She quoted her husband as saying, “those deputies aren’t coming in this house” and noted he had beeb abusive to her throughout their marriage.
When asked about the incident, Sheriff Cecil Nobles said, “First of all, I am thankful nobody else was hurt, and I’m thankful for the GSP, the SWAT team, and the Tattnall Sheriff’s Department for all their help. This man had all intention of killing someone. He shot at my two deputies and he had four loaded weapons with him. We are very fortunate nobody else got shot.”