NORTH AUGUSTA - Three social workers were killed Monday after a man barged into the Department of Social Services office investigating his case and began firing at caseworkers, authorities said.
The three deaths are the first in the line of duty for South Carolina DSS workers, state director Jack Clarke said.
Medical College of Georgia Hospital, where two members of the suspect's family are patients, went into a state of emergency, barricaded its doors and refused to let anyone without a physical emergency enter as police searched for David Mark Hill, 36, of the 2100 block of Carretta Drive, North Augusta.
"This is a tragedy," said George Foster, MCG director of public relations.
Police issued two warrants for Mr. Hill's arrest Monday afternoon as about a dozen uniformed and plainclothes policemen guarded MCG's main emergency room entrances after reports that Mr. Hill might be in Augusta.
Aiken County DSS caseworkers were investigating the Hills and the child welfare department had worked with the family, said Aiken DSS Director Margaret Key. She did not know if the Hills' three children were in state custody.
Several sources said Mrs. Hill had been a patient at MCG Hospital for about two weeks, receiving treatment for depression and alcoholism. DSS was not going to allow the children to remain with the couple, the sources said.
Killed were DSS caseworkers James Riddle, 52, of West Martintown Road in North Augusta; Josie H. Curry, 33, of Carpentersville Road in North Augusta; and Michael Gregory, 30, of Fairview Drive in Belvedere. Mr. Riddle and Mrs. Curry were pronounced dead at MCG Hospital. Mr. Gregory died at the scene, Sgt. Pearson said.
Each was shot once in the head, police said.
South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division officers used a helicopter equipped with infrared detectors to pick up body heat, a bloodhound team and about 40 officers to search for Mr. Hill. Another 40 officers from North Augusta, Richmond and Aiken County - including some off-duty officers called into work - joined the manhunt. By 10 p.m. they had not found him.
Police said they believed Mr. Hill was still in the area because they had no evidence that he had a car to leave in or that he was picked up by someone else, Sgt. Pearson said.
About 30 witnesses to the shootings were taken by school bus to the North Augusta public safety office for questioning as SLED agents suited with flak jackets, shields, and heavy firepower swept the DSS building on Martintown Road twice. The eyewitnesses were released one by one after questioning.
Inside MCG, Mr. Hill's wife and children remained in seclusion at 8:35 p.m., with North Augusta public safety officers guarding them. Mr. Hill did not know where his family was at the time of the shooting, Mr. Foster said.
MCG remained under heightened security Monday night and planned to keep those security measures "Unless the police capture this guy - hopefully very soon," Mr. Foster said.
The Hills were not divorced, but were believed to be separated, Mr. Foster said.
Police say an unidentified person dropped Mr. Hill off at the DSS office shortly after 2 p.m. This person has been in touch with police, but no charges will be filed and officers refused to say if the person was a man or woman.
The eyewitnesses identified Mr. Hill as the man who walked into the DSS building shortly after 2 p.m. and pointed a large-caliber, semiautomatic handgun at a caseworker's head, demanding to see the caseworker handling his family's case, police said. He then started firing, police said.
DSS officials will review security procedures in the wake of the deaths, Mr. Clarke said.
Currently, clients enter a reception area in the main building of the Business and Technology Center and are led down a connecting hallway to the DSS office area, a space about 30 by 40 feet, divided by partitions and ringed by smaller offices, police said.
The office, which accommodates 40 workers, was opened in November, Ms. Key said.
Mr. Gregory's body was found in a different area of the DSS office after police arrived in response to the shootings of Mrs. Curry and Mr. Riddle, which were witnessed by several co-workers, the sergeant said.
Mrs. Curry and Mr. Gregory worked in the new Family Independence Program, an outgrowth of welfare reform. Mr. Riddle, who recently began working at DSS, worked in the child abuse and neglect division.
"They all had very, very different personalities, but they were all true leaders in this office," Ms. Key said. "They were very popular and certainly are going to be incredibly missed."
Ms. Key said workers from the office will meet with post-trauma counselors Tuesday to deal with grief and rage in the aftermath of the deaths. The office will be closed Tuesday, said officials who weren't sure when it would reopen.
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