Feds: Ashley Hall suspect answered questions truthfully, got gun

Even though a judge sent Alice Boland to a prison health facility where doctors injected her with anti-psychotic drugs, her history of mental illness wasn’t enough to prevent her from legally buying a pistol, federal officials confirmed Friday.

The Beaufort woman was arrested Monday after police said she tried to use the .22-caliber handgun to kill an Ashley Hall official and threaten another as 50 students stood by.

She had bought the Taurus PT22 days earlier in Walterboro, where she completed a federal questionnaire that inquires about her mental health history. Specifically, it asks whether she had been determined by a court to be “mentally defective.”

Federal court papers surrounding her 2005 arrest on charges of threatening to shoot the president indicated that a judge sent her to a hospital so doctors could determine whether she could stand trial. The documents do not specify that such a ruling of defectiveness was ever made.

Earl Woodham, a regional spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said he was not permitted to discuss how Boland answered certain questions on the firearms “transaction record.” But passing a background check to buy the gun, Woodham said, means she “answered the questions truthfully.”

“There was nothing illegal about the transaction,” Woodham said. “The arms dealer properly followed procedures. She answered the questions properly.”

The ATF said Friday that it would not pursue charges relating to the purchase, opening the door for the Charleston Police Department to release details indicating how close the downtown school came to tragedy. Whether federal charges will result from other aspects of the case will be up to a U.S. attorney.

Boland, 28, remained jailed Friday on a charge of attempted murder, as well as other state weapons charges. Her public defender, Megan Ehrlich, could not be reached.

Boland bought the pistol, police said, at the Walterboro Gun Shop, a small, cinder-block building at 428 S. Jefferies Blvd. Attempts to contact its owner, Robert Mock, were not successful.

Authorities said Boland pointed the pistol Monday at Ashley Hall school officials and pulled the trigger, but it didn’t fire. No round was in the chamber.

They searched her GMC and discovered 111 American Eagle brand cartridges in three boxes that could hold a combined 120 rounds.

Police said the magazine of Boland’s gun was loaded with eight rounds. They found the remaining cartridge beneath her vehicle’s seat, police spokesman Charles Francis said.

The cartridges were identified as long-rifle rounds, the proper ammunition for Boland’s palm-size pistol. It is one of the most commonly sold cartridges worldwide and a favorite among novice shooters.

Advocates of stricter firearms regulations in the days since the massacre in Newtown, Conn., have pointed to the case as exposing a need for tighter gun-buying rules.

Bill Haber of Church Street picked up his 4-year-old daughter about 15 minutes before the incident. Thinking about how close his daughter came to witnessing an “execution,” Haber said, incensed him.

He called Gov. Nikki Haley’s office for a response to the episode, but he said his request was addressed through a form letter lamenting the Connecticut tragedy. The letter mentioned Haley’s proposal to boost funding for the S.C. Department of Mental Health by $16 million.

In court papers, Boland’s parents said the department had cut off payments for the $2,400-a-month medication that she had been taking in past years.

“I’m frustrated because it’s come out that this woman has a long history of mental illness,” Haber said. “It still didn’t prevent her from picking up a semi-automatic handgun and walking over to the school.”

Rob Godfrey, the governor’s spokesman, said Friday that Haley was “thankful” that no one was hurt at Ashley Hall and that the episode was “a reminder of the need to focus on investing in mental health services ... so that people who can’t get themselves treatment are able to be treated.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.

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