More than two years ago, Alice Boland stood at the front gate of Ashley Hall and started muttering to herself.
She asked questions about the children who attended the private school in downtown Charleston, according to a police report released Wednesday. She inquired particularly about the 5-year-olds, but she didn’t explain why.
She was told never to come back.
But on Monday, the 28-year-old Beaufort woman with a history of mental illness did come back. And this time she came with a pistol she had bought at a gun shop days before, police said. She pointed it at a school administrator and a teacher as 50 students milled outside, and she squeezed the trigger — again and again, police said.
The magazine of the palm-size .22-caliber pistol was loaded with eight rounds, but she didn’t have a round in the chamber. It didn’t fire.
She thought it was defective, but it wasn’t. The gun was fully functional, police said.
“We are extremely fortunate,” said Dickie Schweers, a Charleston County councilman whose wife, a school director, was an intended target.
As loved ones of people involved with the close call continued to express relief Wednesday, Charleston police released new details indicating that Boland had purchased the gun legally, but that she also could face federal firearms charges.
The school told parents in an email Wednesday that they would receive information today detailing school security procedures already in place. Spokeswoman Catherine Newman could not be reached for comment Wednesday, despite repeated requests.
Boland’s only past arrest was on a misdemeanor assault and battery charge the month before she first showed up at Ashley Hall in 2010. She has no criminal convictions.
Her family said she is mentally ill. Under federal law, some mental illnesses would prevent a buyer from acquiring a gun, but the data would be accessible only if it were part of a felony record that pops up on a background check.
Beyond that FBI inquiry, a person’s mental competence to purchase a gun would hinge on the buyer’s honesty.
Before buying the gun, Boland would have been required to answer a federal questionnaire that asks whether she had been committed to an institution or been determined by a legal authority, such as a court, to be “mentally defective.”
A copy of that “transaction record” was found in Boland’s sport-utility vehicle, according to police. Her answer to the question was unknown, as was the extent of her mental illness.
Police spokesman Charles Francis said that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also is investigating the case, and that releasing further details would be unwise.
Police withheld information about where and when Boland bought the gun. In a statement, the police department said it is committed to releasing information when “people are in danger.”
“Our responsibility also requires that the information that we release is accurate and not premature,” it said.
Receipt for pistol
After Boland’s arrest Monday, she told police officers that she had parked her SUV outside her “old psych doctor’s office,” according to a report. Police found it outside the Charleston Health Center at 200 Rutledge Ave., which houses a Planned Parenthood location.
In the GMC they reported finding a receipt for Boland’s Taurus PT22, a semi-automatic pistol that fits snugly in the palm of your hand, as well as a manual and keys to the gun’s locking mechanism.
The documentation featured her name. Blacked out from the report was information included on a business card. Unknown is whether the card identified the gun retailer.
Boland remains jailed in lieu of a $900,000 bail. She faces charges of attempted murder, pointing a firearm, unlawfully carrying a firearm and possessing a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.
She has not yet hired an attorney.
A telephone call placed to her home Wednesday was answered by a man who said, “That’s not in our hands now.”
On Sept. 30, 2010, Boland was issued a criminal trespassing notice when Ashley Hall staff members reported that her behavior was making them uneasy.
The ponytailed woman was first spotted talking to herself. Officer Patrick French, who responded to the staffers’ complaint, later reported that she asked how many children attended the school.
Boland told the officer that she had no children there; she was simply interested in the facility, according to French’s report that documents the “field contact.”
“School staff have never seen her before,” the report stated, “and (they) confirmed that she did not have any kids attending nor was she picking anyone up.”
Call to 911
When she returned around 3 p.m. Monday, Boland started walking back and forth on the sidewalk at 172 Rutledge Ave.
She wore a pink winter coat and green shoes, and she carried a red-and-black bag.
“She’s been pacing outside for about 30 minutes,” a parent told a 911 dispatcher. “I heard her say something about being Jewish and people against her faith.”
At some point, police said, she pulled out the handgun.
Authorities said she first tried to shoot Mary Schweers, the director of the upper school. When the gun didn’t fire, Boland pointed it at teacher Chris Hughes, police said.
Teachers and schoolchildren scattered. Parents and administrators called 911.
“There’s a lady out in our car- pool,” a school employee said in a nonchalant voice.
Her tone abruptly changed.
“And she’s got a gun!” the caller said. “Dear God, send someone quick. The girls are just running back in right now.”
School workers noticed the gun’s daintiness and theorized that it could be a toy.
But they couldn’t be sure, so they and their students took cover.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
A Charleston police officer stands outside a gate at Ashley Hall school in downtown Charleston on Wednesday, part of the heightened security at the facility since a woman was accused of showing up there with a gun Monday.×