State officials say alert was sent to notify law enforcement of escapee

Published: Dec. 9, 2016 at 11:26 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 9, 2016 at 11:29 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - An intense manhunt ensued Wednesday night around the Walmart store on Bush River Road.

Law enforcement officials representing the state and the Midlands worked to track down an accused shoplifter dressed in black, who stabbed a Columbia police officer attempting to question him.

An image of the suspect, Michael Williamson, went public. However, it's not clear whether law enforcement agencies and wounded officer Ashley Hardesty had advance notice a prison escapee with a violent past might be in the area.

Williamson, 47, was serving a life sentence for assault and battery with intent to kill as well as armed robbery before breaking out of the McCormick Correctional Institution.

Officials confirmed Friday that Williamson escaped in a department food truck. Officials did not establish him as an escapee until roughly 40 minutes before he turned up in the store.

It would take 90 minutes or more to travel from the prison to the Walmart.

After a manhunt that lasted all night, authorities finally caught up with Williamson on Thursday morning when he attempted to enter a middle school in Lexington.

"That was obviously a very critical incident for us," said Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook. "We're very happy the officer is okay and this came to a successful conclusion. It would not have happened if it had not been for all the assets that were out here and all the cooperation between law enforcement."

Now, Williamson is behind bars and Hardesty is recovering from the stab wounds.

The Richland County Sheriff's Department told WIS Friday it did not get an alert on the escape Wednesday night before the attack on the officer. However, the Department of Corrections said it sent an alert through SLED to law enforcement and the media "the night of his escape."

The Department of Corrections did not answer most of the other questions posed by WIS, saying in a statement, "all aspects" of the escape and subsequent actions leading up to Williamson's capture are under investigation and that it would be "premature and inappropriate" to make additional comments until the probe is complete.

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