April 28, 2011

Shandon shooter was wearing homemade explosives

Police found homemade explosives on the body of a 22-year-old Columbia man who died Wednesday in a shootout with police in Shandon.

Police found homemade explosives on the body of a 22-year-old Columbia man who died Wednesday in a shootout with police in Shandon.

Blakely Hilton Jernigan had built the homemade explosives out of a powder, but they were no more sophisticated than high-powered firecrackers, Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott said. Investigators also found more weapons, cocaine and marijuana in Jernigan's apartment after the hour-long standoff ended in a hail of gun fire, Scott said.

More details are emerging about the incident that resulted in police SWAT members shooting and killing Jernigan outside a rental house in the historic Shandon neighborhood.

The bizarre chain of events that led to the shootout began at 3:40 a.m. when a man delivering The State newspaper noticed he was being followed by someone driving a black Ford Explorer. The newspaper carrier called police, who eventually stopped Jernigan at Wilmot Avenue and King Street.

As Patrolman Alexander Broder approached Jernigan's car, the young man fired a handgun at close range, striking Broder in the chest. Broder survived the shot because he was wearing a department-issued bullet proof vest.

Police tracked Jernigan to his apartment in a four-unit, brick house on the 2700 block of Blossom Street where they had an hour-long standoff as police negotiators and Jernigan's father tried to coax him into surrendering. Police thought Jernigan had agreed to give up and expected him to exit the house from a back door, Scott said.

Instead, he stormed out of a side door and fired an AK-47 assault rifle at two SWAT members who were guarding that side of the house. The officers returned fired and killed Jernigan. His body lay in the back yard for hours as bomb squad teams were called to disable the explosives on his body and inside his apartment.

When officers entered the apartment, they found Jernigan's girlfriend passed out in the bathtub, Scott said. She had been using drugs and was taken to a Columbia hospital, he said. The woman, who is in her 20s, has not been named as police continue their investigation.

Inside the apartment, police found an undetermined amount of cocaine and marijuana, a second AK-47, machetes and other knives with long blades, and an explosive powder that had been used to construct the homemade explosive devices, Scott said.

Jernigan also had turned on the apartment's stove and natural gas was filling the apartment, Scott said. That could have been a deadly situation if police had been forced to enter the apartment, the chief said. SWAT units often use flash grenades to stun suspects and one of those devices could have caused an explosion when mixed with the natural gas, Scott said.

Police still have not released exactly how Jernigan was able to get out of his apartment and break into another unit in the house. At some point during the negotiations, Jernigan had crawled around the home's attic but Scott said he was not sure if Jernigan had entered the other apartment through the attic.

Residents were asleep inside two other apartments when the standoff began. Police chose not to evacuate them because they determined it was safer for those people to stay inside. The apartment Jernigan emerged from was occupied by other people, who were not physically hurt by him.

Jernigan, a 2007 A.C. Flora High School graduate, had previous weapons and drug charges filed against him while a student at Clemson University. Jernigan was charged by Clemson city police on unlawful possession of a handgun and possession with intent to distribute more than 10 grams of cocaine. He also was charged with possession with intent to distribute flunitrazepam, known on the street as "roofies", and possession of LSD. Those charges were pending in Pickens County circuit court.

Jernigan was no longer enrolled at Clemson.

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