COLUMBIA, SC — The mother of the man accused of shooting a University of South Carolina student in Five Points says she is praying for the girl to bounce back from a shot that paralyzed her.
“I hate the situation,” Juanita Smith said in an interview with The State newspaper Tuesday. “I pray for the young lady every day. He (her son) did not mean to shoot her.”
Her son, Michael Juan Smith, 20, is accused to shooting 18-year-old Martha Childress on Oct. 13 as she waited for a taxi, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.
His father, Michael, said his family extends “our deepest apologies” to Childress and her family.
Their son, 20, also is upset at what happened to Childress, his mother said. “It’s distraught for him.”
Smith’s parents are stunned at the tragedy, saying they’ve been told by their son’s friends that he shot in self-defense after being taunted.
“Somebody had to threaten him,” Smith’s mother said. “What happened is out of character. He’s laidback, chill.”
Her son apparently fired after hearing taunts and then the click of guns from a group of men following him, she said.
Police are seeking three men seen arguing with Michael Juan Smith. His parents say they don’t recognize pictures of the three released by police.
Their son left their duplex in the St. Andrews area earlier that evening, telling them he was headed to the State Fair with his girlfriend, the couple said.
They don’t know how he wound up in the Five Points area, but theorize he went there because he met his girlfriend in a club in the area a few months ago.
Smith said she didn’t know how her son acquired a pistol.
“I never saw him with a gun,” Smith’s mother said. “This is something very new to me. We can’t believe it.”
Smith has been convicted twice of burglary but did not use a gun in the crimes, according to court documents. He was out of prison on probation and living at his parents’ home at the time of the Five Points shooting.
Smith’s mother said she is at a loss to explain why her son resorted to violence. “We instilled church into him.”
A Facebook page contains pictures of him, along with messages of support in street language since the shooting, along with comments that Smith was protecting himself for unspecified reasons. His parents say those pictures are of their son and others.
Childress is receiving care at an Atlanta facility specializing in spinal-cord rehabilitation, members of her family say.
She was struck by what police say was a stray bullet fired by Smith, police say. No one else fired a weapon.
Her shooting ignited new demands on Columbia police and city officials to improve security in the popular entertainment area near USC.
The area is not safe for students after midnight, USC president Harris Pastides has warned.
Michael Juan Smith avoided long sentences in Richland County courts on the burglary charges. He was released on parole in February after serving 10 months of a two-year sentence for probation violations, authorities say.
His parents say he failed to finish the community service required as part of a deal that kept him out of prison initially.
Her son was taking advantage of his recent release to straighten up, his mother said.
Since then, her son worked in restaurants and landscaping while studying for his GED degree after leaving Columbia High School before graduation, she said.
He is the oldest of two sons. Smith’s parents, both 43, work in restaurants near their home.
The younger Smith is called “Junior” by his family even though he has a different middle name than his father. To his friends, he is known as Flame, his parents said.
Smith’s parents are upset that he is being demonized, saying he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“They (authorities) are painting a picture of him as a thug,” his mother said. “That’s not the case at all. He fell on bad luck.”
Smith has been in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center since being denied bond Oct. 14. His parents say he is staying in touch through phone calls.
Richland County public defender Douglas Strickler confirmed that his office will present the younger Smith in upcoming legal proceedings.