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The death of a female corrections officer at a Texas prison is being investigated as a homicide, authorities said Saturday.
Correctional Officer Mari Johnson, 55, was found unresponsive near a kitchen at the Robertson Unit in Abilene, Texas, early Saturday morning, according to a statement from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Johnson was later pronounced dead at Hendrick Medical Center in Abilene, the statement said.
The incident is being investigated as a homicide, the department said, without detailing the circumstances surrounding Johnson's death or whether a suspect had been identified. The crime scene is being processed, and the murder is under investigation, the department said.
Texas Gov. Greg Abott said an inmate killed Johnson Friday night, and he promised "swift justice."
Robertson Unit is a men's prison with a capacity of about 3,000 inmates, and has about 500 security employees.
"We will see that the offender who committed this cowardly act is held accountable," said Brad Livingston, Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
"Correctional officers have one of the most difficult jobs in all of state government, protecting the public from dangerous individuals," Livingston said. "This is a tragic reminder that carrying out that mission can lead to the ultimate sacrifice. Ms. Johnson made the ultimate sacrifice to keep this state safe." Johnson was a seven-year veteran of the criminal justice department.
"It's difficult to put into words the loss felt by the department when a correctional officer dies in the line of duty," said Dale Wainwright, Chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, asking for prayers for Johnson's family and friends.
Abbott also asked for prayers for the Johnson family. "Like all those who faithfully serve, Mari was dedicated to protecting others, and her service will not be forgotten," Abbott said in a statement.
"Texas will ensure the perpetrator receives swift justice, and TDCJ has been instructed to take all necessary measures to enhance the safety of their staff to prevent such tragedies," he said.
The killing comes almost exactly one year after Texas Corrections Officer Timothy Davison, 47, was beaten to death while bringing an inmate to his cell at another state prison, the Telford Unit in Bowie County in northeastern Texas.