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Authorities investigating murder in western Rowan

Staff report
Authorities continue searching this afternoon for the suspect in a killing at a dairy farm on Mount Tabor Church Road in western Rowan County.
At the request of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, the Rowan-Salisbury School System locked down several schools in the area after the crime occurred.
Sheriff’s deputies responded to a shooting at 2065 Mount Tabor Church Road around 10:50 a.m.
Sheriff George Wilhelm described the suspect as a Hispanic man with a small goatee, wearing a red T-shirt and blue jeans. The man fled in a Ford van, which authorities found abandoned around 11:30 a.m. a short distance away on Triplett Road.
“The suspect is armed with a handgun and should be considered dangerous,” a Sheriff’s Office press release said.
The victim, whose identity is not yet available, is also a Hispanic man and may have been an employee at the dairy farm.
Investigators initially said the suspect had children in local schools and the school system locked down Mount Ulla and Cleveland elementary schools and West Rowan Middle. Clearview Christian Academy also was locked down, the Sheriff’s Office said. Authorities later clarified they weren’t sure of his relationship, if any, to the children, whose mother was a witness.
The schools remained locked down at 1:25 p.m. and Rowan-Salisbury School System spokeswoman Rita Foil said they were to remain so until the end of the school day, as a precaution.
“We’ve been working very closely with law enforcement and just following their protocol,” Foil said.
Wilhelm said the owner of the farm, who neighbors identified as Lonnie Hoffner, told investigators he was driving a tractor when he heard someone shout behind him.
He looked over his shoulder and saw the suspect shoot the victim, he told authorities.
The farmer drove into some nearby woods to get away from the gunman and called 911 on a cell phone.
Authorities brought in police dogs to aid in their search for the suspect. Iredell County deputies were assisting.
The identity of the victim is not yet available.
Investigators ask anyone with information about the crime to call the Sheriff’s Office at 704-216-8700 or Crime Stoppers at 866-639-5245.
Check www.salisburypost.com and Wednesday’s Salisbury Post for complete details.

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