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Volunteer Firefighter Murdered While Trying To Help Stranded Motorist

Palmyra, IN – A Ramsey County volunteer firefighter was murdered Monday night while stopping to help a Palmyra police officer who was out with a stranded motorist, according to investigators.

“When people say only the good die young, that very much applies to this situation,” the victim’s close friend, Joshua Saulman, told WAVE.

The incident began at approximately 9:30 p.m. on May 16, when the Palmyra Police Department (PPD) received a report of a vehicle that appeared to be stuck in the 12000-block of State Road 135, Indiana State Police (ISP) Sergeant Carey Huls told the news outlet.

PPD Reserve Officer Zachary Holly responded to the scene and made contact with the driver, 31-year-old Justin Moore, WLKY reported.

Shortly thereafter, off-duty Harris County Volunteer Firefighter Jacob McClanahan, 24, and one of his coworkers stopped to help assist Officer Holly with traffic control, Harrison County Prosecutor Otto Schalk said during a press conference on Wednesday.

Officer Holly and Moore determined the vehicle was out of gas and eventually decided to call a tow truck, Schalk said.

The officer asked Moore if he had any weapons in his vehicle, and he replied he only had a knife on his person, according to the prosecutor.

Officer Holly then asked Moore to go stash the knife in the vehicle, WLKY reported.

But when Moore reached into his car, he came out with a shotgun and opened fire on the officer, Schalk said.

The round missed Officer Holly, who quickly tried to retreat along with McClanahan, WLKY reported.

Schalk said Moore fired again, hitting and killing the volunteer firefighter.

Officer Holly returned fire and struck Moore, who ultimately died at the scene, WLKY reported.

The officer was transported to Harrison County Hospital with minor injuries, according to WAVE.

McClanahan’s coworker was not injured during the attack, WLKY reported.

Officer Holly, a four-year veteran of the PPD, was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

The prosecutor said the entire encounter was captured on dashcam, bodycam, and by a nearby resident’s security camera.

“Video footage leaves zero doubt as to what happened, and clearly showed that the officer was justified in his actions and decisions to use lethal force,” Schalk said on Wednesday, following the conclusion of the ISP’s investigation into the incident.

“I have watched this body camera footage more times than I’d like to, trying to make sense of a senseless killing,” the prosecutor told reporters.

The motive for the attack remains unknown.

Schalk said his “heart absolutely breaks” for McClanahan and his family, WLKY reported.

He said the heroic volunteer firefighter died while trying to help others – a trait he was well known for.

Saulman said he and McClanahan had been friends since high school and that they worked together at the volunteer fire department, WAVE reported.

McClanahan was also a Harrison County Highway Department employee, according to WXIN.

Saulman said he wasn’t surprised at all to learn that his longtime friend was murdered while trying to help others.

“We saw somebody off to the side of the road one time and they needed gas, and he went home, got a gas can, and went and got gas and gave the lady, who had to children in her car, gas,” he told WAVE.

On another occasion, McClanahan literally gave the shirt off his back to a family who lost everything in a house fire, Saulman recounted to WHAS.

McClanahan leaves behind his parents, as well as his sister and nephew, according to his obituary.

He will be laid to rest on May 21.

The Harrison Township Fire Department posted photos of McClanahan to Facebook Tuesday morning.

“Nothing makes sense that anyone could be murdered while stopping & rendering aid,” the fire department’s post read. “Jacob is a true hero that will forever be remembered living the selfless life he did. A true firefighter that was always there when you needed help. Godspeed Jacob T. McClanahan. Your brothers at Harrison Township will miss you. Gone but never forgotten.”

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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