Civitas News Service
HAZARD, Ky. – A Perry County man facing three counts of murder pleaded not guilty to shooting three people this week, and is also set to appear in Perry District Court on Jan. 22 for a preliminary hearing.
Dalton Lee Stidham, 21, of Bulan, allegedly shot his ex-girlfriend, 20-year-old Caitlin Cornett, her uncle, 53-year-old Jackie Cornett, and her cousin, 12-year-old Taylor Cornett, in the parking lot of the First Federal Center of Hazard Community and Technical College.
Authorities arrived at the college at approximately 5:50 p.m. Tuesday after a call was made reporting the shooting, Hazard Police Chief Minor Allen said during a press conference at Hazard City Hall Tuesday night.
“When my officers arrived, they found three victims in the parking lot, two of which were already deceased,” he said.
The shooting was contained in the parking lot at the college, and Allen said it appeared that the incident had nothing to do with the college itself, but possibly stemmed from a domestic dispute. Stidham did not enter any of the buildings on campus, and shortly after leaving the scene turned himself in to the Kentucky State Police post in Hazard early Tuesday evening.
“It’s definitely not an active shooter situation involving the school in any way,” Allen explained. “It’s something that occurred off campus that just spilled into the parking lot of the school.”
The college immediately went into lock down in the moments following Tuesday’s shooting, said HCTC President Dr. Stephen Greiner, adding that all of the school’s protocols for this type of situation were followed.
Police quickly secured the campus, and any students remaining in the First Federal Center afterward, about 30 in total, were able to leave about two hours later.
Greiner noted in a statement on Wednesday that officials are now evaluating the school’s safety and security procedures.
“Our crisis planning and safety drills prepared our team to take the necessary action to secure the campus during this recent incident. We will continue to look for areas of improvement and ways to strengthen our security procedures,” Greiner said. “Our thoughts continue to be with all of the victims’ families and loved ones.”
A semi-automatic pistol believed to have been used in the shooting was recovered in the school’s parking lot, and authorities remained at the college, which closed Wednesday for the investigation, processing the scene and collecting any evidence.
“We’re going to slowly and methodically work this and make sure we cover all our bases,” Allen said.
Caitlin Cornett and her uncle were pronounced dead on the scene, while Taylor, a 6th grader at R.W. Combs Elementary in Perry County, was transported to Hazard ARH and later flown to the UK Medical Center in Lexington. She succumbed to her injuries and died late Wednesday afternoon.
Stidham, also known as Dalton Miller, was placed under arrest at 10:53 p.m. Tuesday night, according to the arrest citation, which also notes that he confessed to the shooting. The citation was signed by Det. Lt. Paul Campbell with the Hazard Police Department.
“After being mirandized, subject (Stidham) admitted that he shot the three subjects listed above,” the citation reads. “Subject stated, ‘I snapped, shot three people, I’m sure.’”
The report also notes that a firearm suspected to have been used in the shooting was located at the scene, and it matches the description Stidham gave police of a handgun purchased earlier on Tuesday.
Stidham is currently lodged in the Kentucky River Regional Jail in Hazard without bond, facing two counts of murder, one related to domestic violence, and one count of attempted murder which has since been upgraded to murder. Stidham appeared for his arraignment in Perry District Court on Wednesday, at which time he entered a not guilty plea. He will appear again next week for his preliminary hearing, after which District Judge Leigh Anne Stephens could find probable cause to send the case to the grand jury.
According to jail officials in Hazard, Stidham has declined all media interviews.
Court records in Perry County show that Stidham and Caitlin Cornett had been involved since November in a custody dispute over their son. Cornett filed a civil action on Nov. 20 seeking custody of 2-year-old Jaydien Bryant Miller. She shared custody with Stidham at the time of her death.
Stidham filed a similar custody action against Cornett, according to court records, and the cases were eventually consolidated. They were set to meet for a hearing on motions in the case on the Monday before the incident.
According to an order tendered in the Perry County Circuit Clerk’s Office on Monday, Stidham was to have custody of the child from Sunday until Tuesday evening of each week, at which time the two were ordered to meet at Hazard Community and Technical College to exchange the child for visitation.
According to authorities, the child has been taken into protective custody, though media reports this week noted that family members were beginning the process of having the child placed with relatives. Judge Stephens issued a gag order in relation to all juvenile proceedings in the case to keep those details confidential.