Corrections officer Jayme Biendl had repeatedly complained to her supervisors about working alone in the chapel at the Monroe prison. The 5-foot-3, 130-pound officer also complained that security cameras in the area didn't work. Late Saturday, her worst fears were realized when she was strangled in the chapel.

"She was feeling unsafe about this because she's off in the chapel and oftentimes supervising lots of inmates, and she had let her supervisors know that she was not feeling safe," said Tracey Thompson, secretary-treasurer for the state corrections officers union, Teamsters Local 117. "My understanding is there were repeated complaints."

Biendl, 34, was pronounced dead at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in the prison complex at 10:49 p.m. The slaying is the first of a corrections staff member at Monroe and the first of an officer in a state prison since 1979.

Officials of the Department of Corrections (DOC) and Monroe police identified the suspect as Byron Scherf, 52, a "three-strikes," 200-pound repeat rapist serving life without the possibility of parole.

Scherf entered the state prison system in 1997 as a high-security inmate, but he qualified for medium security in 2009 because of good behavior, said Scott Frakes, Monroe prison superintendent.

The first indication something was wrong Saturday came around 9:15 p.m., during a prisoner head count in the reformatory unit. The count found one prisoner missing, and Scherf was located minutes later in the chapel lobby. He told officers he had planned to escape but changed his mind, according to DOC.

An hour later, during a shift change, other officers discovered Biendl hadn't turned in her keys and radio and went to her post in the chapel, DOC said. Staff found her unresponsive, performed CPR and called 911. DOC routinely conducts internal reviews of high-profile incidents, but DOC Secretary Eldon Vail said he is considering requesting an external agency review the case.

"Everybody's stunned, and we're probably going to be in that place for a while," Vail said.

 Biendl, of Granite Falls, had been with the department since 2002 and was named Officer of the Year in 2008 at the Monroe facility.

"She was active, loved horses and just was beloved by her co-workers at the facility," Thompson said. "Obviously being officer of the year, this was her career. She took her job really seriously, and she did it really well."