Suspect in Ashley Hall incident had long mental health past, documents show
Nearly eight years ago, Alice Boland stood in line at a Canadian airport and got irritated. The U.S. Customs checks were taking too long.
Charleston police declined to release details of a receipt and business card found in Alice Boland’s vehicle that could indicate where she purchased a pistol. First, spokesman Charles Francis said, the police want federal agents to verify the information.But Jay Bender, an attorney for the S.C. Press Association, said the department’s argument that another agency’s investigation allows it to withhold a report is not consistent with state information laws. He cited a S.C. Supreme Court case in which North Charleston police were ordered to release a video at the center of state agents’ investigation of an officer-involved shooting.To read the state’s Freedom of Information Act, go to postandcourier.com/foia.
She blurted threats, first to Montreal police officers, according to U.S. court documents. Then she blamed President George W. Bush for the inconvenience.
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“I am going to kill President Bush with a gun,” she said, according to an arrest affidavit. “Just give me a gun. I am going to come back and shoot you all.”
The 2005 episode resulted in a federal indictment and a judge’s order for Boland to undergo psychiatric evaluation. Doctors deemed her mentally unfit to stand trial and forcefully injected her with anti-psychotic drugs.
She pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the felony charge of threatening the president. Four years later, the case was dropped.
But how Boland, 28, legally bought a handgun, as police said, and used it to try to shoot Ashley Hall school officials this week remained unknown Thursday. She squeezed the trigger, police said, but the gun didn’t fire.
Her history of mental illness would not have raised flags during a background check when she bought the gun days before Monday’s incident. That’s because, a federal official said, she was never convicted of a felony.
It’s also still unclear whether Boland had disclosed her past in a questionnaire required to purchase the pistol.
Boland’s case factors into a national discourse reignited in December, when gunman Adam Lanza fatally shot 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Some critics have asked whether laws should make it more difficult for people with histories of mental illness to buy firearms.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is still investigating how Boland bought the gun. Federal charges are possible.
“Those health issues are just not linked to the computer system,” said Earl Woodham, a regional spokesman for the ATF who added that federal privacy laws also guard the data. “There’s no way on a background check to link them.”
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley called Boland’s case a “glaring example of the weakness in our national and state gun-acquisition policy.”
He called for a universal national database that culls both criminal and mental health records.
“How close that mentally ill person came to killing innocent people at a school in this city is absolutely awful,” Riley said Thursday. “The fact that she could acquire a gun is terrible.”
Threats to kill
Boland’s run-in with authorities in Quebec came on May 14, 2005, four days after her 21st birthday.
Threats to kill
She had been visiting Quebec City and was preparing to fly home.
“Give me a gun,” she first told police officers, according to the affidavit. “I am going to kill you.”
After her volleys against the president, officers arrested her, and she was taken to a Canadian hospital for psychiatric evaluation, the arrest affidavit stated. She was released that day on the promise that she would later appear in court.
Boland flew back to the United States five days later with her father.
Days later, deputies and John Kenney, resident agent in charge of the Secret Service in Charleston, visited Boland at her Beaufort home.
Kenney reported that Boland loudly repeated her threats during an interview.
“Hell yes I would shoot (Bush),” she said, according to the affidavit. “I would shoot him and the entire U.S. Congress. ... If I had a gun I would shoot you too.”
Kenney told her that making threats toward the president is a felony. She didn’t seem to mind.
“I’ll go to Washington and I’ll shoot him dead and if you get in my way, I’ll shoot you too,” she said, according to the papers. “I’ll go wherever he is and find him and kill him. I’ll kill Senator (Robert) Byrd and Senator (Hillary) Clinton and all those people and think nothing of it.”
Boland told Kenney that she would get two guns from the house, the document stated. The guns were said to be an air rifle and a pellet pistol.
Even as authorities handcuffed her, she yelled more threats, kicked her father and scratched a deputy, according to the affidavit. She later “repeated her desire to kill the president” as she was booked into jail, the document stated.
Reached by telephone Thursday, Kenney said he could not comment on case facts, but he said, “We took her seriously enough that we arrested her and took her case to federal court.”
Threats do not usually result in an indictment, he added, because such cases are often resolved through mental-health counseling or agreements to take medication.
Nearly three weeks after her arrest, a federal grand jury indicted Boland on the charge that carries up to five years in prison.
The following months consisted of court orders and filings by her parents, Donald and Delann Boland.
A judge first sent Boland to Federal Medical Center Carswell in Texas, a prison facility that tends to female mental patients. There, Dr. William Pederson ruled that she was mentally incompetent and that she needed drugs if she were ever to stand trial.
Pederson was permitted, under a court order, to forcefully inject her with drugs. He talked of the anti-psychotic medications Trileptal and Risperdal.
But Boland’s parents balked. They fought for Boland’s return to the Lowcountry.
Risperdal, they argued in court papers, caused side effects: involuntary limb movements, talking to herself, excessive sleeping, possible diabetes. They were speaking from experience, they said. They had already tried Risperdal, which cost $2,400 a month.
Her parents revealed more of Boland’s medical past. They wrote that she had spent three weeks at Charleston’s Medical University Hospital in the early 2000s. She was given 25 medications, but nothing worked.
They said she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and Asperger syndrome, or mild autism.
Her parents added that natural and nutritional methods, not medications, were the only treatments that helped. During past periods of being “cured,” they wrote, she was able to go back to “colleges.” One of those schools was the College of Charleston.
After Boland’s stint at the Texas facility, she was transferred to Palmetto Behavioral Health in North Charleston. Later, her parents took her home.
Boland is accused of showing up Monday at Ashley Hall, pointing a .22-caliber Taurus at a school official and pulling the trigger. The pistol was loaded, but it didn’t fire because no bullet was in the chamber.
She faces charges of attempted murder and other weapons violations.
Charleston police declined to answer further questions about how and when Boland got the gun.
Spokesman Charles Francis said the department was waiting for the ATF to verify information found in Boland’s vehicle.
The documents included a receipt and an ATF “transaction record” in which she had to answer whether she had ever been committed to a mental institution.
Woodham, the ATF spokesman, said federal agents were tracing the handgun’s history.
Despite the court documents detailing Boland’s history, authorities would not comment on whether her past would put her on a list of people prohibited from buying a pistol.
If she had lied on the transaction record, Boland could face charges of falsifying a government document, Woodham said, or being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.
“But even though she has mental issues,” he said, “she may not be disqualified.”Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.