Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2013 8:53 AM EST
By HAYLEY HARMON
6 News Anchor/Reporter
SPRING CITY (WATE) – Authorities are searching for the person who fired multiple gunshots at a TVA security guard early Sunday morning at the Watts Bar Nuclear Plant in Rhea County.
The shooting forced TVA officials to declare a security emergency at the plant, placing it on immediate lockdown.
TVA says the Watts Bar security officer was on his routine patrol just before 2 a.m., monitoring plant property that borders the Tennessee River, when he noticed a boat in the water at the bottom of a boat ramp that leads up to the plant.
It was after he confronted him that officials say the boater shot multiple times at the officer, who then fired back and called for backup.
By the time assistance arrived, the man had sped away.
The plant, which already has tight security measures, went into an immediate heightened state of security.
“We went into our emergency plan and entered into our lowest level into our lowest level of emergency, called an unusual event,” said TVA Senior Vice President Don Jernigan, head of Nuclear Support Services.
TVA Police, the Rhea County Sheriff’s Office plus FBI agents are investigating the shooting, which happened several hundred yards outside the plant’s protected area where the actual nuclear reactor is housed.
“We have tried to find the suspect. That started immediately. We have not been able to locate that individual,” said Jernigan.
Authorities combed a miles-long section of the river, its banks and the entire Watts Bar property, looking for any breaches in security to the plant.
“We’ve done inspections of area up and down the river as well as Watts Bar Dam. Noticed no sign of any malicious activity. We’ve also inspected area surrounding the plant,” said Jernigan.
The boat ramp where the shooting happened sits directly across the river from a popular river access ramp used by the public.
People out fishing on the river Sunday told 6 News the shooting makes them nervous.
“This day and time, you never know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if you’re going to get shot in the back. You just don’t know,” said Charlie Donaldson of Spring City.
“TVA police are working in conjunction with these law enforcement agencies and we will get to the bottom of this,” said Jernigan.
Around 3 p.m. Sunday, TVA announced it has removed the heightened state of security put into place after the shooting, after authorities confirmed they found no lapses in security measures that are in place to protect the plant and the general public.
If you have any information about the shooting, you are asked to call the Rhea County Sheriff’s Office at 423-775-7837.