Officials identify teen fugitives wanted in connection with TN murder

The suspects in this case.
The suspects in this case.

* Please note, authorities have arrested the four suspects named in the following story. For the latest, click here.

NEWBERRY COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Authorities from five South Carolina law enforcement agencies believe they may have four teenagers who have been on the run since early this morning surrounded in a densely forested swampy area of Newberry County.

One of those four suspects is a 16-year-old boy who is accused of killing his father at a home in Greeneville, Tennessee on Wednesday night.

The Greene County Sheriff's Department in Tennessee says victim, 36-year-old Robert J. Blanchard, was shot dead shortly before 11 p.m.

Based off their investigation, sheriff's investigators there identified four teenagers as suspects in the case.

Newberry County sheriff's investigators identified the teen fugitives as 15-year-old Liam Lawler, 16-year-old Shelby Riley, 16-year-old Zack Blanchard, and 15-year-old Daniel Richards-Birchfield.

Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster said the three somehow met up with Zack Blanchard after he shot his father. "It doesn't look like the other three knew anything about the murder until after it happened," said Foster.

After Riley, Lawler, and Richards-Birchfield were reported as missing, investigators in Greene County put out a bulletin about the group, saying they may be driving a stolen van.

Around 5:30 a.m., the van was spotted by a South Carolina Highway Patrol trooper at a rest area on Interstate 26 and a chase ensued.

The teens were then chased into Pomaria in Newberry County when deputies used a tire deflating device to stop them, according to Foster. The van crashed about a short distance near a wooded area on Highway 176 and state Highway 34, and the teens took off.

Approximately 80 officers have since been combing the area.

"You have a heavily wooded area right on the edge of the Sumter National Forest and then when you proceed maybe a mile up the road, you have a maybe a number of trailer parks, mobile home communities, and then you have several little suburban neighborhoods mixed in with the farm land," said Foster.

"We have no reason to believe firmly that we're outside of this perimeter," said Foster. "They're extremely dangerous in our eyes."

Foster said the teens were last spotted around 7:00 a.m. crossing a road in the area. Bloodhounds had very good track to a cut over field, but lost the track in a swampy area.

Foster believes they are still in the swamp or in one of several subdivisions located "down the road toward Whitmire."

"We have a concern that this is a relatively quiet area," said Foster. "People still don't lock their doors, people leave their keys in their cars."

The sheriff said it's possible the four were able to get into a home or steal a car. "But we do not know right now," he said. "We will maintain the perimeter as long as possible."

When asked if the group may have split up, Foster said searchers have been able to spot three tracks. "That would lead you to believe they may have split up," he said. "We've got three distinct tracks, but we don't have a fourth track."

Foster says the group is considered to be extremely dangerous because they found only four weapons inside the van out of a possible eight or nine stolen rifles and shotguns.

"We were led to believe they were stolen in the event that led up to the murder," said Foster who pointed out the group may be armed with handguns.

Investigators also found the identification of at least one of the suspects, 16-year-old Shelby Riley. Sheriff's officials have been in contact with her mother.

As for the other three suspects, who are all males, Foster said they are dressed in dark pants, one with no shirt, one with a white T-shirt, and one with an orange T-shirt.

They also found six cell phones in the van. The phones belonged to the suspects and their family members, Foster said.

The four do not have ties to the Midlands. "They have no family in the area," said Foster. "They ended up here by flight and happenstance."

Deputies say people in the area should shelter in place and be on alert. Bloodhounds, helicopters, and SWAT are searching for the group.

Foster said he is urging residents in that area to stay indoors. "I would be concerned if I lived in the neighborhood," said Foster.

Schools in the area operated on a normal schedule Wednesday, but were on "alert mode." Deputies say that means instruction and learning process would continue while outside activities were avoided.

Foster urged parents who live in the search area to be home when their children returned from school.

"If parents can be at home, they need to be at home to meet their children," said Foster. "We've got officers at the schools and we'll be moving around trying to surveil bus stops."

If the search lasts into the night, Foster said they will bring in more officers and utilize infared technology to try to find the suspects.

"If they're laying down in the woods and not under very heavy cover, we can spot them with infared," said Foster. "The odds would be low that they would stay in this area for a long period of time."

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