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S.C. deputy shot in the head, K-9 fatally wounded by gunman

“If it wasn’t for [K-9] Rico, this could have been much, much worse. We’re very appreciative,” Sheriff Kristin Graziano said


Charleston County Sheriff’s Office

Associated Press

JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. — A man who shot two people, including a sheriff’s deputy, along the South Carolina coast was killed by officers after he fatally wounded a police dog, authorities said.

The dog, named Rico, was sent into a home on Johns Island, west of Charleston, Thursday afternoon to search for Ernest Robert Burbage III in places a robot couldn’t reach, State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said. After killing the dog, he came out of the home and pointed the same high-powered rifle at officers, who shot and killed him, authorities said, ending the daylong ordeal.

Law enforcement had been looking for Burbage since he randomly fired at a car on the island on Wednesday, authorities said. After shooting at the vehicle, Burbage fired on members of a SWAT team as they got out of an armored vehicle late Wednesday, and one of the shots struck the deputy driving the vehicle in the head, Sheriff Kristin Graziano said.

Charleston County Master Deputy James Gilbreath was alert and recovering in a hospital, and he’s soon to be discharged, said Graziano, who released photos of the deputy’s bloodstained ballcap.

Thursday afternoon, a different SWAT team was sent to the Johns Island home where Burbage had been earlier in the search. A robot was sent inside first, but it couldn’t get to every place in the home, Keel said.

The police dog was sent in to finish the search but was killed. Rico was 3 years old and tracked suspects nearly every day, said Keel, who asked for prayers for Rico’s team and handlers.

“If it wasn’t for Rico, this could have been much, much worse. We’re very appreciative,” Graziano said.

Deputies had asked people on Johns Island to stay in their homes and report if they see something out of place in storage sheds, boats or other places someone could hide.

A high school, middle school and three elementary schools in the area were closed before students arrived Thursday morning, Charleston County School District officials said. The park surrounding Johns Island’s Angel Oak, a tree up to 400 years old that is the largest oak east of the Mississippi River, was also closed as the search for Burbage continued.