A West Ashley man wanted for murder in the shooting of his estranged mother-in-law returned Tuesday to the scene of the slaying, where he shot and wounded his estranged wife before going up into the attic and killing himself, authorities said Wednesday morning.
Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten said Ronald David Ratliff's body was recovered from the attic of the Debbenshire Drive home.
He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the neck, Wooten said, around 4:15 p.m.
His identity was confirmed through fingerprints.
Charleston County Sheriff's officials would not take questions at Wednesday morning's news conference. Sheriff Al Cannon, who was scheduled to speak to the media early this afternoon, spoke about the events on the Rocky D show on WTMA at noon.
Ronald David Ratliff, 41, of Debbenshire Drive, was wanted for murder in the slaying Saturday of 65-year-old Linda K. Hayes, his mother-in-law.
On Monday, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon described Ratliff as armed and dangerous and asked the public to be on the lookout for Ratliff's white van. Photos of the van and its license plate were published.
Investigators thought Ratliff might have been headed to Florida, where he has relatives. But they learned that he had stayed in town when a
James Island man called 911 shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday and reported spotting the van on Sol Legare Road, said sheriff's Maj. John Clark, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office.
Dozens of sheriff's deputies, Charleston police officers and U.S. Marshals swarmed the Sol Legare Road area, closing it to through traffic while they took steps to determine if there was anyone inside the van.
A school bus that was dropping off students was not allowed to pass through, and people who lived beyond the blocked-off area were kept from getting to their homes.
Shortly after 3 p.m., a SWAT team carefully approached the van after having fired several rounds of tear gas. Finding no one inside, they moved down a dirt road leading to the marsh, where they searched a dredging crane for the suspect.
Finding no one, authorities began what was to have been a complete search of all of the homes in Mosquito Beach and the Sol Legare Road area.
About 4 p.m., while they were still searching house-to-house, deputies were summoned to a Debbenshire Drive home for a report that shots had been fired.
Blue lights flashing and sirens wailing, more than two dozen law enforcement vehicles beat a hasty path from James Island to West Ashley and Debbenshire Drive, which is off Raoul Wallenberg Boulevard.
Ratliff's estranged wife, Melissity Hayes, and her family had been under the watchful eyes of sheriff's deputies since Saturday, when officials said Ratliff went into the former marital home on Debbenshire Drive and shot and killed his mother-in-law.
The family had been staying in a nearby hotel since the slaying, Cannon said.
"They decided today that they wanted to come back home," he said.
The family returned to the house shortly after noon. Deputies searched the house from top to bottom before allowing them to go inside, the sheriff said.
Cannon said an armed man arrived at the house shortly after 4 p.m. and fired two shots through a window into the house.
One of those shots struck Hayes, Cannon said. She was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not thought to be life threatening.
A sheriff's deputy who was part of the protection detail assigned to the family was in front of the house in his cruiser when the shots were fired, Cannon said. The deputy ran inside and cleared the family members from the home.
Meanwhile, Hayes was being taken to a hospital by one of her relatives, Cannon said.
They got stuck in traffic, and flagged down a city police officer, who then transported Hayes.
After making sure all the relatives were safely outside of the house, deputies went back inside and saw blood dripping from the attic, Cannon said. They called for a SWAT team and additional support.
It was assumed that Ratliff entered the house while the family was being removed and had taken up a position in the attic, but authorities did not know for sure. They also did not know if the person in the attic was alive or dead.
About 6:15 p.m., SWAT team members fired tear gas grenades into the house. They lobbed six more of them into the house about 6:30, and at 7 p.m. they entered the house and found a deceased male in the attic, Cannon said.
Though the dead man in the attic was presumed to have been Ratliff, an official identification was to have been made by the Charleston County Coroner's Office, the sheriff said. The Coroner's Office did not return phone calls Tuesday night.
The family conflict began in September, when Hayes reported being attacked by Ratliff.
He originally was charged with criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature, but the charge was reduced to second-degree assault and battery as part of a plea bargain.
Ratliff was released from the Charleston County jail on Jan. 18 after getting a three-year prison sentence, of which all but 119 days was suspended. He had spent 119 days waiting for trial, so he was released with the condition of one year of probation with substance abuse counseling.
Andy Paras contributed to this report. Reach David W. MacDougall at 937-5655.
Slain woman's husband tells 911 dispatcher he fears for daughter's safety, published 01/25/11Slain woman's husband urges suspect's surrender, published 01/25/11Man sought in shooting death: Suspect's former mother-in-law slain, published 01/24/11Police still after West Ashley shooting suspect, published 01/23/11