WILLIAMSON, W.Va. – The Mingo County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the death of longtime coal company executive Ben Hatfield, who was found dead of a gunshot wound in a cemetery Monday.

Hatfield’s body was found about 6:30 Monday morning at Mountain View Memory Gardens outside Williamson. The cause of death is not yet known, but the case is being investigated as a homicide.

The news drew stunned reaction among West Virginia’s coal industry leaders.

Hatfield was the CEO of International Coal Group at the time of the company’s 2006 Sago Mine Disaster, which killed 12 miners. Paul Hardesty, a former lobbyist for ICG, said he was devastated by the news on Monday.

“I was driving to Charleston today for the legislative session, I received a call from Mingo County of Ben’s passing, and I had to pull off the road. Just total shock,” Hardesty said.

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney shared similar feelings Monday night.

“Terrific disappointment. Just absolute shock,” Raney said. “The industry and the state of West Virginia have lost a great man. No question about it.”

Hardesty said that Hatfield handled the Sago disaster about as well as someone could under the tragic circumstances.

“Ben handled tragedy the best way he knew how. He came up and engaged the families, they tried to do the right thing,” he said. “You could look on the TV screen and see the devastation on his face. Very compassionate man; very caring.”

Raney couldn’t imagine why anyone would murder Hatfield.

“It just doesn’t even register with me as to why,” Raney said. “It just has to be something that’s cold blood; no motive. Because I can’t even imagine what a motive would be knowing Ben as I do.”

Hatfield also served as the CEO of Patriot Coal. His twin brother, Dennis Hatfield, is also a longtime coal official.

Hatfield’s wife, Debbie, is buried at the graveyard where Ben was found. She died several years ago from cancer.

The Sheriff’s Department requested that the State Police Crime Scene Team respond and assist with the investigation.

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