Tips needed in hunt for deputy’s shooter

State Law Enforcement Division agents on Saturday released this sketch of the suspected gunman. (Provided)

The Berkeley County sheriff’s deputy who was shot and wounded by a masked gunman late Thursday, has been taken off a ventilator and is talking and recognizing family members, a county spokesman said Saturday.

“While doctors are cautiously optimistic, Lt. Will Rogers is still considered in critical but stable condition,” the spokesman said via social media.

State Law Enforcement Division agents on Saturday released a sketch of a person of interest in the case. A witness who came forward described him as a black man, between 5-feet-10 and 5-feet-11, and 150 to 170 pounds, spokesman Thom Berry said. He has dark hair with a reddish tent toward the forehead, he said.

Authorities searching the woods for the gunman came up short Friday, but investigators have several leads and have shifted their focus to the tips that turned up during the massive manhunt.

Rogers, 54, of Summerville, was shot about 10:30 p.m. Thursday while talking to a customer outside the Exxon at U.S. Highway 52 and Cypress Gardens Road. The masked man then carjacked a black Hyundai Santa Fe, fled the scene and hasn’t been seen since.

The gunfire left Rogers recovering from multiple gunshot wounds. He underwent surgery early Friday and was listed in critical condition at Medical University Hospital, Berkeley County spokesman Michael Mule said.

Rogers is engaged and has several children. He has been with the Sheriff’s Office since 1991 and was one of 15 people who recently ran for sheriff of the county, but he did not advance out of last month’s primary.

Before that, he spent a year with the Moncks Corner Police Department. He was with the S.C. Highway Patrol from 1984 to 1990. He served in the Marines from 1980 to 1984.

“I would ask that you keep he and his family in your prayers,” Acting Sheriff Butch Henerey said.

Hundreds of officers from the State Law Enforcement Division and multiple local, state and federal agencies descended on the rural area late Thursday.

SLED, which is leading the investigation, brought in a helicopter and bloodhounds. Officers stopped motorists to check trunks.

The SUV that the suspect escaped in was found wrecked and abandoned near Bushy Park two hours after the gunfire.

Officers established a perimeter around the vehicle and combed the area for the suspect and possible clues.

The search concluded around 4 p.m. Friday after investigators announced the suspect was no longer believed to be in the area. It was not disclosed where they would focus their efforts next.

Henerey said during a news conference that investigators were following up on multiple leads, but he wouldn’t specify what those leads were.

Investigators hope that a burgundy or maroon-colored bag the suspect was carrying when he shot the deputy will be the key to identifying him, Henerey said.

Surveillance video of the carjacking shows a man with the bag in his left hand and what appears to be a gun in his right hand. He approaches the Hyundai parked in front of the gas station, and a man in a blue shirt gets out of the driver’s side. The suspect then gets into the vehicle and drives off.

He wore a black mask, a white long-sleeved shirt and gray running pants with a white stripe down the side.

Witnesses weren’t certain of the man’s race, Henerey said. But what they did see helped investigators re-create the following chain of events:

Rogers was working as the shift supervisor around when he pulled into the parking lot of the Exxon and began talking with a customer Thursday night, Henerey said.

That’s when the masked man came from behind the building and shot Rogers several times, Henerey said. The gunman then forced the driver out of the parked SUV and fled the scene, according to SLED.

SLED does not consider this an officer-involved shooting.

Spokesman Thom Berry said the agency is “treating the case at this time as an attempted murder of a law-enforcement officer.”

Rogers was not wearing a body camera when he was shot, Henerey said.

The shooting was the first that wounded a law enforcement officer in the tri-county area since the September slaying of Charleston County Deputy Joe Matuskovic in West Ashley.

Before that, Charleston police officer Cory Goldstein was shot and wounded during a March 2013 confrontation with a running suspect in West Ashley.

North Charleston officer David Winslette also survived the wounds he suffered when a fleeing man shot him outside a gas station in January 2012.

The search brought agencies together to assist at the scene, including officers from Highway Patrol; Charleston; North Charleston; Goose Creek; Bonneau; St. Stephen; Eutawville; Charleston County; Dorchester County; Hanahan; Berkeley County Rescue; Department of Natural Resources; Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Service; U.S. Marshals Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration and CSX Railroad Police.