Sniper rifle found in Bluffton home after 12-hour standoff

tbarton@islandpacket.comSeptember 12, 2012 

Police found several weapons -- some loaded -- in the home of a man who barricaded himself inside for 12 hours Wednesday in the Parkside subdivision of Bluffton.

Police searching the house after the standoff found a sniper rifle next to a second-floor window, an assault rifle and several handguns, said Bluffton police spokesman Lt. Joe Babkiewicz. The sniper rifle was not among the loaded weapons, he said.

Ammunition was scattered throughout the house on Woods Bay Road, Babkiewicz said.

The drama began around 2 a.m. Wednesday when worried neighbors called police. The neighbors said that Anthony Valentino -- apparently intoxicated -- had shown up at their home saying he was going to harm himself and officers, according to police.

By the time police arrived, Valentino, 35, had barricaded himself alone in his home and was threatening to shoot, Babkiewicz said.

Valentino did not point weapons at officers, but told relatives and neighbors via email he would "take officers down" who approached the home, Babkiewicz said.

The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office's SWAT team, negotiators and bomb squad assisted Bluffton police during the confrontation.

Officers considered using the bomb squad's robot to obtain a layout of the home's interior, but did not, Babkiewicz said.

The neighborhood -- off of Hampton Parkway -- was closed during the standoff. Neighbors were evacuated as a safety precaution and allowed back later.

Rob Lembo, who lives across the street from Valentino, said police came to his door around 11 a.m. They told Lembo and his wife they should leave their home for a few hours because there was "a safety issue."

"It was alarming, but we never felt we were in any imminent danger," Lembo said. "It was frightening because we didn't know what was happening, if anyone was harmed or in danger -- if there were hostages -- but the police had good control of the situation the entire time."

Nearby schools were notified and instructed to have students dropped off and picked up by their parents across the street from the entrance to Parkside.

"We had eyes on him the entire time and knew he was still inside the house," Babkiewicz said. "If he did come out, we had enough people to take care of the situation so he did not get away."

Finally at about 2 p.m. Valentino surrendered peacefully at the urging of relatives.

All weapons were removed from the home and secured at the Bluffton Police Department. No explosives were found inside or near the home.

Valentino is expected to undergo a mental health evaluation. No charges have been filed against him. Police obtained a court order Wednesday afternoon to have Valentino detained and treated at a local hospital.

"(He) had come off medication, and as result, he started to have some anger-management issues," Babkiewicz said. He added that Valentino had recently been fired by his employer. The firing appeared to be a contributing factor, but not the primary reason for the standoff, Babkiewicz said.

"Mr. Valentino said he was under a lot of stress, mainly due to his fiancee flying to Maine with his 21-month-old child without telling him," Babkiewicz said.

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