Community members reflect on last week’s manhunt

By Elyssa Parnell

April 7, 2014

NEWBERRY — While more than 100 law enforcement personnel searched last Thursday for four Tennessee teens wanted in connection with a shooting in that state, Newberry County residents were left to wonder if they might find the group at their homes.

Jodie Peeler lives in the woods a few miles from where the suspects were reported on Thursday. She said it was close enough to get her attention.

Because she had the day off, Peeler said she took the authorities’ advice and stayed inside her home all day.

“I kept watch over our property, kept my eyes and ears open and followed developments via news outlets and through Twitter,” Peeler said.

Tangila Bowers lives off S.C. 34 in Newberry and described herself as a nervous wreck for the majority of the day on Thursday. Her husband and oldest son Brandon were both working, while her youngest son Zachary was at school, so she said she was alone that day.

Bowers owns and operates a hair and jewelry boutique from her home and said she still had customers stop by despite the dangerous threat of fugitives. As customers left her shop, Bowers escorted them to their vehicles while carrying a pistol.

“I hoped I’d never need the crazy thing,” Bowers said.

Greene County (Tenn.) Sheriff Steven Burns thanked Newberry County law enforcement for the inter-agency cooperation during the manhunt.

“I appreciate all the efforts put forth down there. We had an excellent working relationship with them in South Carolina,” Burns said.

Burns said his department received a tip last Wednesday night of a possible shooting at Robert Blanchard’s residence. A social worker/counselor overheard a conversation to suggest law enforcement check on the location, Burns said.

When officers arrived at the Blanchard residence, they found Robert Blanchard dead from a gunshot wound in the chicken house in back of the home.

When law enforcement realized a Kia van was missing, information about the vehicle was put into NCIC. The resulting alert ultimately led to the S.C. Highway Patrol spotting the vehicle at a rest area in Newberry County.

Burns said the stolen Kia van belonged to the Blanchard residence, but was unsure if it was registered to the deceased or to another family member.

Burns announced Friday in a press release that Zachary Thomas Blanchard, 16, will be charged with one count of first-degree murder.

The other three teens — Daniel Allen Richards-Birchfield Jr., Liam Michael Lawlor and Shelby Lynn Riley — will be charged under Tennessee law with one count each of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder and one count each of theft (through criminal responsibility) over $1,000.00 and less than $10,000. As of Friday, no court dates or return dates had been set.

NCSO Chief Deputy Todd Johnson said there are legal issues still being worked out to extradite the four to Tennessee because they are minors.

Sheriff Lee Foster released the names, ages and photos of the four on Thursday because they were deemed to be a threat to public safety.

Johnson confirmed that all four were charged under South Carolina law with possession of a stolen vehicle and possession of stolen goods. He said the driver will be charged with failure to stop for a law enforcement vehicle.

Having a son about the same age as the teens, Tangila Bowers said she couldn’t imagine what their parents were going through and how she could ever pull a gun on someone in such similar age.

“It was such a sad thing with them being so young and needing to be afraid of them,” Bowers said.

Bowers said she’d never seen so many officers and such great teamwork as was represented Thursday.

“God was truly present in our community,” she said. “I’m so happy none of the kids were hurt.”