JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (WCBD) – The man accused of shooting two people – including a Charleston County Sheriff’s Office deputy – is dead following a nearly 30-hour search on Johns Island.
The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said in a Thursday afternoon update that the threat to the public was over and the individual accused in those shootings, Ernest Burbage III, was dead.
SLED Chief Mark Keel said during a Thursday afternoon press conference that the agency’s SWAT team responded to a home on Mary Ann Point Road — the same home where Burbage was spotted Wednesday night — around 2 p.m.
The agency sent a robot inside followed by K9 Rico. Moments later, gunshots were heard and K9 Rico was killed. Burbage then exited the home through a window holding a high-powered rifle.
“Burbage then exited the residence where SLED SWAT and Dorchester County Sheriff’s deputies engaged him when he presented the firearm and he was shot and died at the scene,” Keel said.
K9 Rico, a 3-year-old German Shepard mix, had been with the agency for just over a year and served on the SLED SWAT team and K9 tracking team.
“He was out almost every single day working with our folks and working with sheriffs and city police departments from across our state,” Keel said, noting that Rico had been involved in “too many apprehensions to name.”
The search for Burbage began around lunchtime Wednesday after deputies responded to a reported shooting off Mary Ann Point Road and Chisolm Road. A shooting victim was taken to the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) for treatment. A vehicle was also struck.
Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said during a Thursday morning news conference that there had been an argument at a residence on Mary Ann Point Road the night before between Burbage and a girlfriend.
“His girlfriend said he was just acting crazy. They had been drinking, alcohol was involved. Then around noon yesterday he just randomly started shooting at people,” she said. “The person that was struck was a passenger in a car that was passing by. The driver was not struck. They drove themselves to the hospital. They were not a target.”
That victim’s condition is unknown.
Multiple law enforcement agencies aided the sheriff’s office in a search for Burbage that stretched into the late night hours.
During a news conference shortly before 11:00 p.m. Wednesday, Amber Allen, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, said one of their deputies had been shot.
Sheriff Graziano said authorities were executing a search warrant on a home when they received information that the suspect was standing in the yard of an acquaintance about a half-mile away.
“Deputies responded to that location. They encountered him with a long gun, a rifle, he fled into the woods and they took cover. We brought up our bearcat – which is our armored vehicle – with SWAT guys on it. As the officers were deploying out of the vehicle he started shooting at us.”
Sheriff Graziano said the vehicle was struck several times. One of the rounds went into the vehicle and struck one of the operators in the head.
The deputy was identified as Master Deputy James Gilreath, who has been working for the agency for six years. He was taken to the Medical University of South Carolina for testing and treatment.
It is believed the bullet came from behind and left through the side of his hat. Sheriff Graziano said he suffered a serious but non-life-threatening injury and has since been released from the hospital.
Residents who lived around Mary Ann Point Road were asked to shelter in place during the search. As efforts to find Burbage reached into the early morning hours, the Charleston County School District announced schools on Johns Island and Wadmalaw Island would be closed out of an abundance of caution.
Nearby businesses and attractions – like the Johns Island Library and Angel Oak Park – were also closed during the law enforcement activity.
Someone who has known Burbage for years but did not want to be identified told News 2’s Walker Simmons the suspect has always been in and out of trouble with a criminal track record. They said the last time they heard from Burbage was roughly three weeks ago.
The U.S. Marshals Service, in conjunction with local law enforcement and SLED, offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to Burbage’s capture.
“If you have a boat, a trailer, a camper, any outbuilding, an abandoned building, anything in your property that looks out of sorts, please give us a call,” Sheriff Graziano said. “He’s tired, he’s hungry, and he’s desperate.”
The sheriff’s office announced that the threat was over around 2:14 p.m. and stated that Burbage was deceased.
The State Law Enforcement Division’s SWAT team deployed a robot into a residence believed to be connected to Burbage — and K-9 Rico followed. But upon entering the home, K-9 Rico was shot by Burbage.
Officials say Burbage exited the home and encountered SLED and the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office in the side yard. Burbage was shot and died at the scene.