The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

An escaped inmate kicked down a sleeping woman’s door. But she had a gun.

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The prisoners had been planning their escape for days.

Bruce McLaughlin Jr. and Timothy Dill put the jailbreak into motion sometime after 2 a.m. Tuesday. It was the graveyard shift at the jail in Pickens County, S.C., when their fellow prisoners were asleep and, if luck was on their side, the guards were less alert than usual.

McLaughlin and Dill surprised and overwhelmed two guards, incapacitating them, then bolting for the chain-link fence that separates the jail from the residents of Pickens, Sheriff Rick Clark told reporters.

Then, Clark said, the plan began to collapse, and things grew desperate.

Other jail guards and Pickens County sheriff’s deputies had learned of the escape, and Dill was found on Concord Church Road, about a half-mile from the facility. Minutes after escaping, he was on his way back to jail.

But McLaughlin — a tattooed-neck felon who was jailed on charges of grand larceny and first-degree burglary, according to Newsweek — kicked in the kitchen door of a nearby house.

Inside, a woman lay in her bedroom, alone and asleep, authorities said.

McLaughlin picked up a foot-long kitchen tool used to hone knives.

A few moments later, authorities received a 911 call.

It was the no-longer-sleeping woman. She had just shot a man, she told dispatchers, and he was dying on the floor outside her bedroom. She had no idea who he was, but he was wearing what looked like jail clothes.

Authorities found McLaughlin on the floor of the woman’s house with a gunshot wound to the head. He was flown by helicopter to a hospital, but he did not survive.

And with that, the woman was thrust into the good-guy-with-a-gun debate, in a nation embroiled in a long-running discussion about firearms.

The National Rifle Association has repeatedly lauded #ArmedCitizens who kill mass shooters or other dangerous people. The lobbying group also has used the incidents to criticize politicians who’ve pushed for stricter gun control.

Critics of that argument say that people who just happen to have access to firearms at the right moment aren’t a substitute for comprehensive gun control policies that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals in the first place. And they point out that many good guys with guns — including trained police officers — have become victims.

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But Clark, the sheriff, said more of the people who live in his county should emulate the woman on Meece Mill Road. She was licensed to have her handgun and had been trained to use it.

“This is the shining example of what this lady did, took the time to get her [concealed weapons permit] and set herself up to be able to protect herself and not be harmed, killed or raped or whatever,” Clark said at a news conference.

The sheriff’s office did not charge the woman; Clark said investigators determined that she faced an imminent threat and had no escape route because of the size and layout of the house.

“This was a big guy,” Clark said. “If she didn’t have a weapon, there’s no telling what would have happened. But she stopped the crime. She solved the crime and came out a winner.”

When Clark met the woman, he said, he told her as much.

“I gave her a big hug. I told her how proud I was of her.”

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