ESCALANTE, Utah, Dec. 8, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — Jimmy Woolsey never saw his attacker coming. And anyone who knew the affable 61-year-old could have never foreseen how his life would end, a friend said.
Early Tuesday morning, Woolsey, a residential staffer at Turn-About Ranch, a rehabilitation center for troubled youths, had just turned his back when a new resident pulled out a hidden weapon and struck multiple blows to Woolsey’s head. The Escalante man died at the scene.
“I honest to God don’t know why the individual thought he had to go as far as he did, as far as murdering Jimmy,” said Garfield County Sheriff James D. Perkins. “I don’t know why he thought he had to kill him.”
The way Woolsey passed is shocking to those who knew him, Perkins said.
“I knew Jimmy,” the sheriff said. “Jimmy was the type of guy that was always upbeat, with a smile on his face. He loved to camp and hunt and fish and to visit with these kids, and they talked to him. He was just a good guy. If there was a mean bone in his body he never showed it.”
The suspect, a 17-year-old from Arizona, had been at the ranch for about five days, and was determined to “escape,” Perkins said. The boy and Woolsey had never exchanged angry words, and the suspect had even made positive comments about Woolsey, the sheriff said.
“He wasn’t mad at Jimmy,” Perkins said, speculating that the boy simply thought Woolsey might try to stop him from leaving.
“It appears that’s what happened,” Perkins said. “You can’t understand it.”
Another young resident who witnessed the murder (the type of weapon used has not been disclosed) ran from the campfire area to a nearby building to alert a female staff member.
The suspect reportedly took Woolsey’s car keys, but was unable to start the vehicle. The youth then went after the female staffer, and reportedly said he would kill her unless she turned over her keys. She obliged, and the suspect struck her several times before she was able to close the cabin door, protecting others inside.
“I just talked to her,” Perkins said, of the female victim, whose name has not been released. “She’s got a head full of stitches. The physical part of it, I think, is going to be OK. She is very upset, understandably. She’s having some problems, grieving like the rest of us.
“Let me tell you something about that lady,” Perkins added. “She saved her own life and five other kids. I don’t know where she got the strength and fortitude to get it done. She did exactly what she needed to do.”
The fleeing suspect led law enforcement agents on a high-speed chase, his car sometimes going airborne, before officers were able to box him in and take him from the car and into custody. As of Thursday evening, formal charges against the boy were still pending.
Two days later, many area residents are deep in mourning, Perkins said.
“There’s like 4,700 people in Garfield County and Escalante may have 700,” he said. “We are rural and small, and everybody knows everybody.
“The community, when a tragedy like this does happen, is united,” Perkins said. “All the neighbors and friends, even the small town rivalries and personality issues are set aside when something like this happens.”
Main Street in Escalante is thick with yellow ribbons, tied on trees, posts, fences and mail boxes, all in remembrance of Woolsey.
“It’s heart wrenching, how it affects the community,” Perkins said. “We’re like family. We celebrate together and we grieve together.”
Woolsey, a lifelong resident of the area and a five-year veteran of the ranch, is survived by his wife and 10-year-old daughter. A GoFundMe page established to raise $15,000 for funeral expenses had raised $13,865 as of early Thursday evening.