Inmate kills guard at West Texas prison

A male inmate killed a female corrections officer at a prison in west central Texas early Saturday, authorities said.

Mari Johnson, 55, was found unresponsive about 3 a.m. near the kitchen area of the Robertson Unit, a prison in Abilene, Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark said. Life-saving measures were initiated and Johnson then was taken to Hendricks Medical Center in Abilene where she was pronounced dead, he said.

The name of the inmate and circumstances surrounding the killing were not immediately released. Clark said the agency's Office of Inspector General was investigating and that no additional details would be released yet.

"Correctional officers have one of the most difficult jobs in all of state government protecting the public from dangerous individuals," Brad Livingston, the department's executive director, said. "This is a tragic reminder that carrying out that mission can lead to the ultimate sacrifice."

Johnson had been with the prison system since August 2009.

Dale Wainwright, chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, said the loss of a corrections officer's life was "difficult to put into words."

"I ask the public to remember their acts of unselfishness, remember their many acts of courage, and remember the dedication and commitment demonstrated every day by correctional officers," he said.

The Robertson Unit, about 140 miles west of Fort Worth, has a capacity of nearly 3,000 inmates.

Gov. Greg Abbott called the slaying senseless and an "unfathomably tragic event."

Johnson's death comes a year after the last on-duty slaying of a Texas corrections officer. Timothy Davison, 38, was attacked by an inmate in July 2015 at the Telford Unit near Texarkana in far northeast Texas. The inmate, Billy Joel Tracy, 38, already was serving a life prison term and now is awaiting trial for capital murder.