By Jaynell Graham
Tragedy and sadness struck in more ways than one Friday when a state trooper and two county sheriff’s deputies responded to a wellness check at the home of Tim and Shawn Cruikshank McDaniels, just outside of Marlinton.
Trooper Damon Brock, of the West Virginia State Police – Marlinton Detachment, now Lead Investigator in the case; Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Dave Walton and PCSD Captain Troy McCoy went to the home where they discovered the bodies of the couple, victims of a double homicide.
“The crime had not occurred the day we found the scene,” said state police Sgt. Herby Barlow. “So we did not feel there was a threat to anyone other than us [the police] when we made contact with the suspect.”
Barlow said that if there is ever an event in which the police feel there is a threat to public safety, sufficient and official notification will be issued, but that was not the case in this situation.
“Our primary concern is public safety,” he said. “We knew, once on-scene, that the crime had not just been committed.”
Law enforcement put out a bulletin to surrounding counties to alert them to be on the lookout for the couple’s Honda Pilot.
From the initial call at 1:15 p.m, Friday, it was all hands on deck.
A special Crime Scene Team was immediately called in to deal with two crime scenes, Barlow said.
Local authorities gathered information that pointed toward the probable suspect, and a grand larceny warrant was issued with regard to the stolen Honda Pilot.
That suspect is 22-year-old Aaron Joseph Bussard, Tim McDaniels’ grandson; Shawn’s step-grandson.
State and county law enforcement began a search that took them from Hillsboro to Snowshoe. When it was reported that guns and medication were missing from the suspect’s father’s home on Rt. 92, roadblocks were set up on Rt. 39 at Rimel, Rt. 84 at Frost and Rt. 250 at Thornwood.
In addition, law enforcement traveled from Rimel to Frost by way of Paddy’s Knob, searching and waking deer hunters in the night to ask if they had seen the vehicle.
At 4:30 a.m. Saturday, law enforcement regrouped, Barlow said.
The Crime Scene Team remained onsite until daylight Saturday morning.
Later that day, a call was received from Virginia, saying Bussard had been spotted at Callaghan.
A stand-off ensued as Bussard refused to exit the vehicle.
Brock, Trooper R. A. Waid and Barlow were on scene when Bussard was captured. He was taken to Allegheny Regional Hospital where law enforcement obtained a statement.
Bussard was arraigned on a Fugitive from Justice charge in Allegheny County, Virginia, Monday. He waived his right to an extradition hearing, and was transported to Pocahontas County Monday evening where he was arraigned before Magistrate Cynthia Broce on two counts of first degree murder and one count grand larceny.
Broce said that bond for the grand larceny charge was set at $100,000.
However, bond for the first degree murder charges, for which the penalty may be life in prison, cannot be set by a magistrate. Only a circuit judge may set or grant bail for those charges.
Bussard was remanded to the Tygart Valley Regional Jail.
“We have worked non-stop since this came in,” Barlow said of the investigation, “and it will continue.”
Much chatter was generated on social media during the course of this investigation.
Barlow said that social media is the way young people communicate these days, but on the other hand, there was a lot of misinformation put out, and he recommends, in the future, only information known to be correct and coming from a reliable source, be posted.
Barlow acknowledged that this crime hit close to home.
McDaniels was a medically retired State Trooper, having served in the county from 1978 to 1991. He was wounded January 26, 1991 during a domestic investigation, an injury for which he received a Purple Heart.
McDaniels remained in the area, and remained a part of the law enforcement family, therefore many families, and indeed the entire community, has been affected by this tragedy.
Barlow expressed his thanks to the Pocahontas County Sheriff’s Department, Allegheny County, Virginia Law Enforcement, Bath County Law Enforcement, U.S. Forest Service – Law Enforcement, Pocahontas County 911-Homeland Security, which kept extra dispatchers on duty to take calls, and the public-at-large for stepping forward to supply information pertinent to the case.
In addition, Barlow asks that residents in the county check on family members, friends and neighbors.
“Frequently, please,” he said.