Suspect killed K-9 before being fatally shot during manhunt, South Carolina agents say

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division gave an update on the deputy-involved shooting on Johns Island.
Published: Sep. 28, 2023 at 3:02 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2023 at 5:31 PM CDT
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JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC/Gray News) - The man who led multiple law enforcement agencies on a 26-hour manhunt on Johns Island was fatally shot shortly after he killed a K-9 officer Thursday afternoon, the chief of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division said.

Ernest Robert Burbage III, 38 – who was accused of shooting two people, including a sheriff’s deputy – died at the scene of an officer-involved shooting at approximately 2 p.m., SLED Chief Mark Keel said.

K-9 Rico was shot and killed by Burbage, Keel said, as SLED agents deployed the dog into a home where Burbage was believed to be hiding. SLED agents used a robot to clear as much of the home as possible, then sent Rico inside the home.

“Very shortly after he was inserted, there was a gunshot and he was killed,” Keel said.

The Charleston County Sheriff's Office said the suspect died after an officer-involved shooting.

Burbage then exited the home through a window, presented a firearm at SLED agents, SWAT team members and Dorchester County Deputies and was fatally shot. Keel said Burbage died at the scene.

Rico was a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois mix who had been with the agency just over a year, he said.

“K-9 Rico participated in too many apprehensions to name,” Keel said. “He was out almost every single day, working with our folks and working with sheriffs and city police departments across our state.”

“This is a tough day. It’s a tough day for law enforcement, but if it wasn’t for Rico this could have been much, much worse,” Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said. She thanked Keel for allowing them to use Rico in the search, saying the dog “definitely saved lives.”

Graziano said Burbage was armed with a high-powered rifle at the time he was shot.

Authorities had been searching for Burbage on Johns Island since Wednesday.

On Thursday afternoon, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that the threat to the public was over.

“Suspect is deceased,” the post said.

WARNING: The following video contains graphic content.

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the man they had been searching for on Johns Island in connection with a shooting investigation is dead.

Burbage was wanted in connection with two shootings that took place on Mary Ann Point Road on Johns Island and had an active warrant for attempted murder.

The search for Burbage began Wednesday afternoon following a shooting that sent one person to the hospital. The shooting was reported around noon.

Graziano said Burbage was standing in the middle of the road when deputies responded, and Burbage started shooting, hitting a passing car and striking a passenger.

Deputies said the victim is being treated at an area hospital.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano gave an update Thursday morning on the ongoing manhunt on Johns Island.

Burbage’s girlfriend told deputies they had a fight Tuesday night and he had been acting strangely.

Deputies were searching a home that Burbage was known to frequent when they received information that Burbage was in the yard of another home, Graziano said.

When deputies arrived at the home, they found Burbage armed with a rifle. He fled into the woods.

SWAT team members went toward the woods in an armored police vehicle and were met with gunfire from the woods, Graziano said.

One of the bullets hit Master Deputy James Gilbreath in the head. He was undergoing treatment at a hospital as of Thursday morning and was released Thursday afternoon.

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office has identified the deputy shot during a standoff on Johns Island Wednesday night.

The search for Burbage prompted several schools in the area to close Thursday.

SWAT teams with the Charleston and North Charleston Police Departments and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division assisted the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office in the search, Allen said.

Earlier on Thursday, Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano had announced a $10,000 reward for information that led to his capture.

Charleston County Sheriff Kristin Graziano said there is a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of shooting suspect Ernest Burbage.

“I think he’s tired. He’s hungry. He’s desperate. We have no information that he’s injured. There’s nothing that would indicate that he is,” Graziano said earlier. “But he’s a human, he’s subhuman. He is somebody that is tired. He’s desperate. He has got to eat. He’s got to sleep and we’re going to find him.”