POMARIA — The Newberry County Sheriff’s Office apprehended four fugitives Thursday afternoon off S.C. 34 after a daylong multi-agency manhunt.
The four suspects, who fled from Tennessee, were apprehended around 3:30 p.m. when resident Todd Lever saw them run through a field into a wooded area.
Law enforcement quickly surrounded the area and a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division helicopter tracked the suspects until they were taken into custody. The four were apprehended without incident and taken to the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office.
Although the four — Liam Lawler, 15; Shelby Riley, 16; Zack Blanchard, 16; and Daniel Richards-Birchfield, 15 — are minors, the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office released their names and photographs early Thursday to the media because of a risk they posed to public safety.
Sheriff Lee Foster credited increased public awareness for helping resolve the case, particularly active use social media and residents spreading word relayed to them from traditional media outlets.
In fact, it was a NCSO Nixle alert that tipped Lever off to be on the lookout for fugitives in his area.
“Our biggest asset in the search is we kept the fugitives on the run and kept them pinned down on foot. Media, social media and personal contact, including door-to-door notification of the public, helped us bring these fugitives to justice,” Foster said.
Foster said he followed Twitter feeds during the search and said the Nixle alert system did its job well.
Fugitives from Tennessee
Foster said the four teens had no connection to the area other than they took flight down I-26.
“Apparently the four agreed to head to Myrtle Beach. The route from Eastern Tennessee to Myrtle Beach goes right through Newberry County,” he said.
According to Greene County (Tenn.) Sheriff Steve Burns, law enforcement responded to a possible shooting at 3905 Snapps Ferry Road around 11 p.m. Wednesday. Upon arrival, deputies discovered the body of Robert J. Blanchard, 36, who had suffered an apparent gunshot wound.
The Greene County Sheriff’s Departments Criminal Investigation Division (CID) processed the crime scene early Thursday morning. The investigation identified four suspects and a vehicle in the case.
According to Foster, Tennessee law enforcement believes Zach Blanchard killed his father and led the area with three friends. Foster said they had not determined a motive late Thursday afternoon.
Foster said at a 4:30 p.m. press conference Thursday that it was unclear when the other three suspects learned that Robert Blanchard had been shot and killed. The four fled in a manner that implied to law enforcement that they left Tennessee voluntarily.
“It does not appear at this time that anyone in the group was taken against their will. All of them ran together and stayed together,” he said.
The families of the other three reported them missing Thursday morning before they learned they had fled to South Carolina.
Eight weapons, including two AK-47 style rifles and two shotguns, were determined to be in the vehicle. Two rifles and shotguns were recovered at the accident scene along with 200 rounds of ammunition. The four were unarmed when they were apprehended but Foster said one of them said they threw handguns into a creek as they fled.
More than 100 law enforcement personnel searched for four with assistance from SLED, Fairfield County, Richland County, S.C. Highway Patrol and other law enforcement agencies.
“Anyone who flees from the law is automatically dangerous but this was magnified because these were juveniles who were armed and running from the law after a serious crime had been committed,” Sheriff Foster said.
If the search had progressed into nightfall, law enforcement planned to call in a SLED aircraft equipped with infrared technology and to call in more manpower.
At 7 a.m. Thursday a resident sighted the four near Peister Road. Bloodhounds got a strong trail at first, but the trail cooled as the search neared trailer parks and residential areas off S.C. 34 near Mt. Bethel Garmany Road. Law enforcement lost track of them in a swampy area near Maybinton.
Foster said there was a great deal of communication between the four suspects via cell phones in the hours immediately after the shooting but they left six cell phones in the vehicle as they fled.
That middle of the night flight led to BOLO notification on the four and the silver Kia van the female suspect was driving.
A S.C. Highway Patrol trooper saw the silver Kia van with the teens in it around 4:48 a.m. Thursday and ran the plates because it seemed suspicious. The van came back as stolen and when he tried to initiate a traffic stop, they fled.
A Newberry County sheriff’s deputy got ahead of the suspects and placed stop sticks on S.C. 34 at U.S. 176 to deflate the vehicle’s tires. The van then wrecked and the four fled as law enforcement pursued them on foot.
Foster thanked the community for heeding the department’s recommendations to shelter in place and remain vigilant.
The four suspects were taken to the Newberry County Sheriff’s Office where the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation assisted in detaining them. Because they are juveniles, Foster said the Department of Juvenile Justice will be involved in detaining them until they can be extradited to Tennessee.
Other than fleeing law enforcement, he said to his knowledge that the four did not commit any crimes while they were in South Carolina.