Front Royal police say a man stabbed himself on Wednesday during a confrontation with officers that led authorities to lock down E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School during the incident.

Joseph John Heath, 32, of Front Royal, faces an obstruction of justice charge after fleeing from an officer who tried to arrest him on a bench warrant at 12:45 p.m., according to information provided by the Front Royal Police Department on Thursday. Heath later surrendered to police after he barricaded himself in a shed near the school and had stabbed himself. Emergency responders took Heath and an officer who suffered a leg injury during the foot chase to area hospitals.

Heath failed to appear in Warren County General District Court on Wednesday as scheduled, online records show. The judge issued a warrant for Heath’s arrest for failing to appear in court. The police officer tried to arrest Heath on the warrant and the pursuit ensued. Heath had been out on bond since his arrest on Nov. 7 on three drug-related offenses, fleeing from law enforcement, two counts of obstruction of justice, and for failing to appear in court for scheduled dates in prior cases.

The confrontation started in the area of 120 N. Commerce Ave., according to a department news release. Heath ran from the officer who pursued the man on foot. Heath jumped over a wooden fence behind Valley Health Multispecialty Clinic and ran toward Chester Street, the release states. The officer jumped over the fence and injured his right leg when he landed.

Heath ran into a shed on the north side of the Love Revival Ministry Center at 119 Chester St. and barricaded himself inside, the release states. Heath armed himself with a large knife and started stabbing himself, according to police.

Nearby E. Wilson Morrison Elementary School went on lockdown at the onset of the incident, with all students taken inside.

A crisis negotiator came to the scene and spoke with Heath in an effort to resolve the incident. Heath walked out of the shed to the negotiator after 15-20 minutes and then to emergency medical services workers with the Warren County Department of Fire and Rescue Services who started to treat him, the release states.

Crews from the North Warren, Front Royal and Linden fire and rescue stations responded to the scene. A crew from Shenandoah Shores went to Randolph-Macon Academy and set up a landing zone for the AirCare4 medical helicopter, according to information from the county department. The North Warren crew took Heath to the landing zone and the helicopter crew flew him to Winchester Medical Center.

Emergency responders treated the police officer at the scene for his injuries before the Linden crew took him by ambulance to a nearby hospital.

Heath remained in recovery at the hospital as of Thursday evening, Front Royal police Capt. Brian Whited said in an email. He expected Heath to be discharged on Friday at which point officers planned to arrest the suspect on a charge of obstruction of justice.

The injured officer had gone home and was recovering as of Thursday evening, Whited said.

– Contact Alex Bridges at

(1) comment


I came in here fully expecting to read numerous responses from wanna be cop experts on how the PD should have handled this and how they could have done it better themselves. Good to see it has not happened.

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