Year’s top story is one everyone wished never took place

Published 6:50 pm Friday, December 30, 2016

The top story of 2016 was an eight-day-long nightmare for all of Vicksburg and Warren County.

On March 2, Rafael McCloud, who was being held in the Warren County Jail awaiting trial for the June 28, 2015, heinous murder of Sharen Wilson of Vicksburg, used a homemade shank to overpower a jailer and escaped custody.

McCloud was charged with stalking and attacking Wilson, 69, in her Drummond Street home on Saturday, June 27, 2015, and taking her to the abandoned Kuhn Memorial Hospital on Martin Luther King Boulevard, where she was shot to death.

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After escaping from the jail, McCloud was on the run for eight days, during which he apparently never left Vicksburg. His green pants were found at the old Kuhn Hospital during the massive manhunt.

After eight days on the run and in the early morning hours, McCloud broke into a home on Fort Hill Drive, where he took hostage a Vicksburg family.

McCloud held the couple and their 5-year-old son in a bathroom of the home, but the wife managed to escape and returned with a handgun and shot McCloud. She freed her husband, who then fired additional shots at McCloud.

The family fled the house, ran outside and flagged down a passing motorist, asking them to call 9-1-1.

McCloud was found dead in the bathtub of the home with multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the head.

His death ended a round-the-clock search that began with his escape on March 2.

“This is certainly not how we wanted this to end,” said Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace on March 10. “Our goal was to take him back into custody and have him stand before a jury in Warren County. But he brought this upon himself.”

Vicksburg Chief of Police Walter Armstrong said authorities thought McCloud had help while he was on the lam in avoiding authorities.

“He had on tennis shoes — nice, white tennis shoes — and a pair of blue jeans, so there is some indication someone has been helping him or he stole those items. But the shoes looked to be the exact size he wears,” Armstrong said at the time.

The McCloud escape led to policy changes at the Warren County Jail and the firing of an unnamed officer, following an internal investigation.

Pace said an investigation conducted simultaneously by the sheriff’s office and the U.S. Marshal’s Service found no evidence McCloud was aided in his escape, either in the jail or during the eight days he was on the run.

“I take responsibility for my staff, and this should have never happened. Some of the procedural changes and security reviews have been put in place.

“We are responsible for the safety of the public, and that means to contain those that are here (because) the court deems necessary to detain, and I hope the overall security and procedural changes we’ve made will prevent this from every happening again,” Pace said.