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ALTOONA, Pa. – Blair County corrections officer Rhonda Jean Russell, 47, died Wednesday when she was inadvertently shot by a police officer who was attempting to defend her from a prisoner who had grabbed her gun during a struggle, state police in Hollidaysburg said.

Christopher James Aikens, 54, a prisoner at Blair County Jail, was to appear in Central Court, Fourth Street, Altoona, for a 3:15 p.m. hearing when he assaulted Russell and grabbed her gun, troopers said.

An Altoona officer in the court building responded and fired one round at the prisoner, but struck Russell. Russell was taken to UPMC Altoona and was later pronounced dead.

Troopers did not identify the officer involved.

Aikens is charged with criminal homicide, attempted criminal homicide, kidnapping and related charges.

Aikens, of Altoona, was to appear in court on weapons and drug charges stemming from a Nov. 10 arrest at a residence in the 3000 block of West Chestnut Avenue. In that incident, Aikens was on state parole for robbery when police seized rifles, handguns, $480 in counterfeit $20 bills, suspected crystal methamphetamine and crack cocaine, according to a criminal complaint.

The Blair County Prison Board issued a statement Thursday offering sympathies to Russell’s co-workers, family and friends. State police, the Blair County District Attorney’s Office, the Blair County Coroner’s Office and local police departments are investigating.

Patrick Buchnowski is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5061. Follow him on Twitter @PatBuchnowskiTD.

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