Deputies from Cowlitz and Pacific counties are patrolling Wahkiakum County while the county deputies grieve over Sheriff Jon Dearmore, whom authorities say shot himself Tuesday just as deputies arrived at his home.
An autopsy will be held Thursday to confirm the cause and manner of death.
Cowlitz County Sheriff Mark Nelson said Dearmore's wife, Lori, called dispatchers around 5 p.m. Tuesday from their home in Grays River, worried that her husband, 50, had been making suicidal statements.
"When the deputies arrived on scene, they found Sheriff Dearmore in his shop. As they entered the door to talk with him, he shot himself," Nelson said in a prepared statement Wednesday.
Both deputies who responded were Dearmore's friends and had been with the sheriff's office many years, Nelson added. "This is tragic for any agency, but for one the size of Wahkiakum County Sheriff's Office it's devastating."
Wahkiakum County Undersheriff Mark Howie was sworn in as acting sheriff in a tearful ceremony Wednesday morning. The Wahkiakum County Commissioners will appoint a new sheriff Nov. 5 after considering any candidates who may apply.
For now, deputies from neighboring counties will patrol Wahkiakum County under an agreement prompted by the 2011 slaying of Rainier Police Chief Ralph Painter.
"The sheriffs of Washington state are all committed to be there for each other in a time of need. Jon knew that we would be there for his people. We will do whatever we need to do to help our friends get back on their feet from this terrible loss," Nelson said.
The interlocal agreement, signed in May 2011, allows a deputy from Cowlitz, Wahkiakum, Pacific, Columbia or Clatsop counties to enforce the law in any of those counties during emergency situations.
"The agreement is certainly doing what it was intended to do," Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson said by phone Wednesday. "I'm very grateful we were able to put that together. It makes it easier for all of us."
Johnson said he has known Dearmore since 1988, when Dearmore came to work in the Long Beach Police Department. He's known Lori Dearmore even longer through her work in the Naselle School District. Jon Dearmore spent 25 years in law enforcement, including 18 in Wahkiakum County. He was elected sheriff in 2010.
"Jon was very, very involved with the schools and the kids," Johnson said. "He was very well-liked in the community."
The Dearmores have a college-age daughter, Kaelee.
Johnson said Long Beach police officers will help cover Pacific County while his deputies are patrolling western Wahkiakum County. Nelson said that Longview and Kelso police and the Washington State Patrol all volunteered to help cover Cowlitz.
Cowlitz County Coroner Tim Davidson's office will investigate Dearmore's death at the request of Wahkiakum County Prosecutor-Coroner Dan Bigelow.
"We're gathering medical records and everything else, to see if we can find what pushed him to this point," Davidson said Wednesday. "We want to try to find those 'why' answers for the family."
At this point, it appears that Dearmore may have been despondent over lingering medical problems from a line-of-duty injury suffered several years ago, Nelson said. Other circumstances are under investigation, he said.
"Sheriff Dearmore was a loved, well-respected member of the Wahkiakum community, as well as the region," Nelson said. "He was my friend, and I'll miss him."