CRIME

Escaped inmate accused in Walmart stabbing caught after trying to enter school

Michael Allen Williamson.

Michael Allen Williamson.  (South Carolina Dept. of Corrections via AP)

An inmate serving a life sentence who escaped from a maximum-security South Carolina prison and stabbed a police officer while on the run has been recaptured after a locked door stopped him from getting into a school, authorities said Thursday.

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Michael Allen Williamson, 47, was caught around 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Northside Christian Academy in Lexington about 13 hours after the stabbing, investigators said.

A parent at a nearby different school saw Williamson dressed in all black with a black stocking mask and told the police officer at the school. She tried to question Williamson and he ran, Lexington Police Maj. Matt Davis said.

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Williamson tried to open the door of the academy where children were on a playground nearby, but officials at the school near the U.S. Highway 378 exit on Interstate 20 keep it locked, Davis said.

"Once he found out the doors were locked and he couldn't go anywhere else, he sat down on the bench," Davis said.

Williamson was discovered missing from McCormick Correctional Institution in the western part of the state around 8:50 p.m. Wednesday.

Forty minutes later, he was stabbing Columbia police officer Ashley Hardesty, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said.

Hardesty's protective vest deflected many blows, but Hardesty was treated for two stab wounds to her arm and shoulder and released from the hospital Thursday morning, Holbrook said.

McCormick Correctional Institution is about 80 miles from the Walmart and the trip is down a number of country roads. State Corrections Director Bryan Stirling acknowledged the problem of it taking 40 minutes from Williamson being discovered missing to the time he is in Columbia attacking the officer.

"I want to give y'all accurate information. We're going to investigate and we will let you know when we know," Stirling said.

Investigators think Williamson made it out of the prison in a food delivery truck. Stirling said it was too early to answer questions about whether Williamson had help escaping or getting to Columbia or on to Lexington.

Williamson has served nearly 19 years of a life sentence without parole for armed robbery and assault and battery with intent to kill out of Greenville County. Before Wednesday he had no known escape attempts, according to prison records.

His prison disciplinary file shows violations for having contraband, possessing a cellphone and having alcohol and drugs.

After Williamson stabbed Hardesty, Holbrook said the 26-year-old officer got up off the ground and chased the escapee all the way to the woods.

"She demonstrated so much courage yesterday," said Holbrook, who called his officer just before talking to reporters to tell her Williams was recaptured. "She's ready to get back in the fight."