NORTH AUGUSTA - Prosecutors said Tuesday that they plan to seek the death penalty against David Mark Hill on charges that he murdered three social service employees.
Before police apprehended Mr. Hill on Tuesday morning, he attempted suicide by putting a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol to his mouth and firing. It is the same type weapon used to kill three Department of Social Services caseworkers Monday afternoon. Police found Mr. Hill sprawled across railroad tracks at 9:20 a.m. about a quarter-mile from the DSS building.
Mr. Hill was rushed to the place that many feared his arrival Monday - Medical College of Georgia Hospital, which spent 17 1/2 hours in an emergency lockdown Monday night and early Tuesday morning, afraid he would come looking for his wife and 3-year-old daughter, who are patients there.
"He is expected to survive his injuries," said William Heim, chief of North Augusta Public Safety.
Mr. Hill was out of surgery at 8:30 p.m. and still listed in critical condition, said Susan Yarborough, an MCG spokeswoman.
"He told us that he had shot himself this morning due to the intensive law enforcement pressure," said Robert Stewart, chief of South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division.
Chief Stewart said Mr. Hill also attempted suicide two months ago.
Mr. Hill will be served with five felony warrants - three on murder charges, one on an assault and battery with intent to kill charge, and one on a kidnapping charge - as soon as he has recovered enough to be served, police said.
DSS caseworkers Michael Gregory, 30, of Belvedere; Josie Curry, 33 and James Riddle, 52, both of North Augusta, died Monday from gunshot wounds to the head. The kidnapping charge stems from allegations that Mr. Hill pointed a gun at Mrs. Curry's head and demanded she take him to Mr. Riddle, the caseworker investigating him.
About 30 eyewitnesses identified Mr. Hill as the gunman and he was captured on DSS office surveillance tape. Police used his smiling image from that tape to publicize Mr. Hill's features, but SLED agents won't say if the killings were caught on film, Chief Stewart said.
All three of Mr. Hill's children have been placed in state custody, with his 2-year-old twin boys in foster care and daughter, Rebecca, in DSS custody as of last week, authorities said.
His wife, Jacqueline Hill, is being treated at MCG for alcoholism and depression after being arrested on drunken-driving charges last week. Rebecca, paralyzed from a car wreck a year ago, also is an MCG patient.
The Hills were separated - Mrs. Hill took out a restraining order on her husband - but were not divorced.
Police could not say when Mr. Hill shot himself, but none of the 30 officers searching from 7 to 9:20 a.m. Tuesday heard a shot. Mr. Hill was already wounded when they found him on the railroad bed, Chief Stewart said.
He was responsive and answered questions from police, Sgt. Pearson said. He held his own intravenous fluid bag when emergency crews wheeled him out of an Aiken County ambulance and into MCG Hospital.
Police stopped searching for Mr. Hill around 2 a.m. Tuesday, hindered by darkness and the thick woods. They set up a perimeter from the DSS building on Martintown Road down about a mile and called back bloodhound teams, officers and a helicopter using infrared scopes.
"Everybody was exhausted," Chief Stewart said. "We brought the helicopter down and went back up at first day light."
As soon as day broke, about 30 police lined up side by side, 10 feet apart, and began combing through the woods directly behind the DSS building. Once they cleared that section, the line turned to the right, toward the railroad bed.
"There's a deep, deep ravine that goes down to the railroad bed," Chief Stewart said. "You couldn't walk that ravine because it was so steep. He was down and to the right from there if you're standing in back of the DSS building."
Police needed a front-end loader to push a quarter-mile path down the densely-wooded area to get to Mr. Hill. They had to place the wounded man in the back of a 4-wheel drive vehicle and drive him the quarter-mile to get him to a waiting ambulance. Police considered calling a medivac helicopter, but it couldn't land in the area because of downed trees, Chief Stewart said.
"He had not been there all night because we walked those tracks last night," he said.
Capturing their shooting suspect did little to clear up the myriad questions police still have about the case, such as which victim was shot first. Police could not say how many shots were fired Monday, or better explain why they believed Mr. Hill chose that day to act on what they called ongoing frustrations with the DSS caseworkers investigating him.
"Those details are still being investigated," Chief Heim said. But, "We are preparing to prosecute."
Part of that preparation includes the idea of seeking capital punishment, Aiken County Solicitor Barbara Morgan said in a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
"We have had preliminary discussions on the death penalty," she said.