BHC 10102019 Tyler Thornberry

Red Onion State Prison Officer Tyler Thornberry receives the governor’s Honor Award for Heroism from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. 

POUND, Va. — A Red Onion State Prison officer is being hailed as a hero after intervening in a potentially fatal attack on a fellow officer.

Officer Tyler Thornsberry, 29, has received Gov. Ralph Northam’s Honor Award for Heroism, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.

The attack occurred on Dec. 2, 2018, at Red Onion, a maximum security prison in Wise County. Thornsberry’s quick response probably saved his fellow officer’s life, the state said in a news release. The offender, Keith Dwane McDuffie, 32, now faces one count of attempted capital murder, two counts of assault and battery on a corrections officer and one count of possession of an unauthorized weapon by an inmate.

Authorities said the attack occurred as an officer escorted McDuffie from his cell to a recreation area. The man turned and began stabbing the officer with a weapon made of sharpened plastic, the release states.

Thornsberry walked around a corner and found himself only a few feet from the struggle. He lunged into the situation as the other officer sustained serious stab injuries to the head and chest, the release states.

With his momentum, Thornsberry subdued and restrained the offender.

“There really wasn’t much time to think,” he said. “I just reacted based on my training.”

Prison Warden Jeffrey Kiser said Thornsberry responded quickly and effectively in a very stressful situation, and he likely saved the officer’s life.

“In a critical moment, Officer Thornsberry responded like the well-trained officer that he is. His selflessness and courage in the face of danger make him a true hero,” said VDOC Director Harold Clarke. “The commonwealth of Virginia is incredibly fortunate to have officers like Tyler Thornsberry.”

Before joining the Virginia Department of Corrections in February 2018, Thornsberry served for two years as a corrections officer with the Kentucky Department of Corrections, the release states. As a new hire in Virginia, he received 10 weeks of training and spent an additional four to six weeks shadowing other officers.

McDuffie has been incarcerated following a 2008 conviction in Colonial Heights, Virginia. He was sentenced on 22 charges stemming from robberies at three businesses, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

McDuffie, who is now being held at Wallens Ridge State Prison in Big Stone Gap, has two January court dates scheduled in Wise County Circuit Court.

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