Body found is Butler man

Abby Morris
Star Staff

   BOONE, N.C. -- Investigators have identified the body that was found in the Watauga River here Wednesday afternoon as that of a Butler, Tenn., man. Three suspects in his murder are now in custody following a police pursuit through two states.
   Two adults and a 14-year-old juvenile have been charged with first degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of Johnny Kurt Harmon, 39. Kayakers found Harmon's nude body in the Watauga River on Guy Ford Road near the "low water bridge," according to reports from the Watauga County Sheriff's Department.
   Police arrested Lori Ann Chappell, 36, of Sugar Grove, N.C., her 14-year-old daughter, and Joseph Donald Kope, Jr., 19, of Iowa, after being led on what was described as a "dangerous" chase. Investigators found evidence in a vehicle driven by Chapell linking the three to the death of Harmon.
   According to information from Watauga County Sheriff Mark Shook, Kope and Chappell are being held without bond due to the serious nature of the charges. The juvenile is being held in a secure juvenile detention facility. Shook also stated that his office will be meeting with District Attorney Jerry Wilson to discuss the possibility of trying Chappell's daughter as an adult in the incident.
   The arrest of the three suspects arose from a continuing investigation into two break-ins and a high speed chase early Wednesday morning, according to Shook. Officers from the Sheriff's Department responded to a burglar alarm at Valley Pantry, U.S. Highway 421 in Zionville. According to WCSD Major Paula Townsend, Deputy Allen Reed responded to the scene and observed a blue 1987 Chevrolet Cavalier bearing Johnson County, Tenn., license plates in the parking lot of the business. The deputy then attempted to conduct a stop on the car, but the vehicle fled.
   Reed chased the vehicle north on Highway 421 into Tennessee and then onto Highway 87/88 into Ashe County, N.C.
   During the chase, Kope allegedly fired multiple shots at Reed with a .22 caliber firearm, but neither Reed nor his vehicle was struck, Townsend said.
   In Ashe County, officers from several local Sheriff's Departments as well as the North Carolina Highway Patrol and the Johnson County (Tenn.) Sheriff's Department apprehended the vehicle using "spike strips" to deflate the Cavalier's tires. At that time, Kope and the juvenile fled on foot into the woods. Chappell, who had been driving the vehicle, was taken into custody at that time.
   After fleeing the scene, Kope and the juvenile then allegedly stole a pickup truck from a house in Ashe County in an attempt to further elude arrest. Police officers spotted the truck and began a second chase that ended when the suspects wrecked. Kope sustained a head injury and was transported to Ashe Memorial Hospital where he was treated and released to officers. The juvenile was examined by Ashe County Rescue and released to Ashe County authorities and subsequently to Watauga County investigators.
   The Watauga County Department of Social Services was also contacted in the matter due to the fact that the juvenile was in the care of her mother, who is also a suspect in the crime.
   When investigators returned to the scene of the break-in, they discovered that the business next door to Valley Pantry convenience store, the Valley Restaurant, had also been broken into. Investigators were able to recover some of the stolen items from the two locations. According to reports, the suspects had been throwing out some of the stolen items during the initial police pursuit.
   No court date has been set in the matter as of press time. The investigation is ongoing and further charges from other jurisdictions are expected.