The escaped maximum-security inmate accused of stabbing a Columbia police officer at a store Wednesday night tried to enter a Christian school while fleeing police Thursday morning, according to officials.
Michael Allen Williamson, 47, was apprehended around 10:45 a.m. Thursday in Lexington, according to Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook. Williams had been on the run since escaping from McCormick Correctional Institution in McCormick County on Wednesday night.
A parent going to Meadow Glen Middle School in Lexington on Thursday morning alerted a school resource officer after seeing a man nearby wearing all black and a black mask, according to Maj. Matt Davis of the Lexington Police Department. A patrol officer approached Williamson and spoke with him, twice asking him to take off the mask.
Williamson removed the mask but took off running toward Northside Christian Academy after being asked to sit on the curb, Davis said. The officer first chased him on foot and then returned to her car. She saw Williamson get into a car in the school parking lot before exiting and running to the doors of the school.
“He grabbed a hold of the front doors and realized they were locked,” Davis said. “He sat down on a bench and gave up, basically.”
School was in progress when Williamson unsuccessfully tried to enter the building, Davis said. Lexington County School District 1 said Meadow Glen middle and elementary schools were on lockdown for 10 minutes.
Police say Williamson was at the Wal-Mart on Bush River Road around 9:30 p.m. Wednesday when he was seen trying to conceal merchandise.
Columbia police officer Ashley Hardesty responded and was escorting Williamson to a loss prevention area in the store to question him when he stabbed the 26-year-old officer in the arm and shoulder, Holbrook said.
“She got back up off the ground, pursued him by foot and lost him in the wood line,” he said.
Hardesty, who has been with the department since July 2015, was released from the hospital Thursday morning and is recovering well, Holbrook said. Investigators have recovered the knife they believe Williamson used to stab Hardesty, and are trying to determine how he got the weapon.
Officers from Columbia police, Richland County, Lexington County and the State Law Enforcement Division swarmed the area Wednesday night during the search for Williamson, which included K-9 teams and a SLED helicopter. Several schools near the Wal-Mart were on a modified lockdown Thursday morning.
Holbrook said authorities received dozens of calls from people with general descriptions.
“He confirmed that he was, in fact, the escapee,” Holbrook said of Williamson’s arrest by Lexington police.
Williamson was serving a life sentence for a 1997 conviction in Greenville County on charges of armed robbery and assault and battery with intent to kill, according to Department of Corrections records. It remained unclear Thursday how he escaped the maximum-security prison.
Bryan Stirling, director of the S.C. Department of Corrections, said investigators believe Williamson escaped on a food truck; however, an internal investigation is still pending. Prison officials verified at 8:50 p.m. Wednesday that Williamson had escaped, but Stirling couldn’t say when he was last accounted for inside the prison.
Authorities have warrants for Williamson for escape and the assault on Hardesty, Stirling said.
The McCormick facility houses long-term inmates and has two fences around it, Stirling said. An inmate last escaped from the facility in 1988.
Holbrook said Williamson’s capture is a testament to the relations of Midlands law enforcement agencies.
“It was a routine – if there's ever such a thing as a routine call – shoplifting call that our officers, especially out in this area, respond to hundreds of times a year,” he said. “It ended up being an encounter with a violent escaped prisoner.”
He said Hardesty was “very upbeat” late Thursday morning.
“She demonstrated so much courage yesterday,” he said. “She's ready to get right back in the fight.”