Bystander shooting death in Columbia not what it appeared to be

nophillips@thestate.comAugust 1, 2013 

— An argument between middle school-age gang members is what led to last week’s shooting death of a man in an apartment complex parking lot, with his 3-year-old daughter nearby, Sheriff Leon Lott said.

While the dispute started between teens, it ended with adults who were watching and others who had been called for backup for the teens.

Lott said the July 24 episode is just one more sign that gang activity in the county has increased throughout the summer. And he said Thursday that original reports portraying the 25-year-old shooting victim as an innocent bystander who was holding his daughter are misleading.

Kevin J. Lewis, 29, is being held on a murder charge at Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center for the shooting death of Howard J. Nemley. Lewis’s bond has not been set.

On the fatal evening, two sets of middle school students who belong to rival gangs and live in two different apartment complexes met in the parking lot at Deer Park apartments on Firelane Road, Lott said.

The two groups had been arguing since the end of the school year over a girl, Lott said. The sheriff would not identify the gang affiliations or school they attend. Most of the boys are entering high school in the fall, he said.

The students were arguing, but their dispute never turned violent, Lott said.

However, Nemley and a friend, Eric Salley, were outside watching the argument. Salley, 23, began provoking the teens and cursing at them, Lott said.

Then, the mother of one of the teens called Lewis, who was a friend, to come help. Lewis allegedly organized multiple people who arrived in two SUVs, Lott said.

Lewis and others allegedly beat up Salley, and Salley ran away, Lott said. Nemley tried to run but was shot in the upper body as he fled.

“After he was shot, he was lying on the ground and he was shot again,” Lott said.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Lewis is in a gang. He is not cooperating, Lott said. Investigators also are looking for other participants who arrived in a gold Denali and in a green SUV. The sheriff’s department released a video clip of Lewis and another suspect as they stopped at a convenience store to buy alcohol before driving to the apartments.

Investigators are not sure exactly where Nemley’s 3-year-old daughter was when he was shot, but she was nearby.

Earlier news reports indicated the two had been to a park and were on their way home when he was shot while holding her in his arms. But Lott said those stories were made up by people who witnessed the fight and the following shooting.

“It’s not like he was playing at the park with his child and totally had nothing to do with it.” Lott said.

Still, Lott did not implicate Nemley as the one who was egging on the arguing teens.

The sheriff had harsh words for Salley’s behavior even though he has not been charged with a crime.

“What he did was stupid,” Lott said. “It was his friend’s life. If he had kept his mouth shut, I wouldn’t be standing here today talking about it.”

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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