Young people in Northeast Columbia, including high school students, have set off violent confrontations with drug dealers they are ripping off, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said Wednesday.
Lott said he held a news conference to calm residents who are concerned that a recent rash of shootings is the work of a roving gunman.
What’s been happening for about a month is that 16- and 17-year-olds have been setting up marijuana buys from their dealers, then robbing them, Lott said. That has created a cycle of violence because the dealers, who were having to replace their stashes, started fighting back, he said.
In a Feb. 27 shooting at a Hardscrabble Road shopping center parking lot, a 47-year-old woman caught in a crossfire was grazed.
Two days later, 18-year-old Jaelene Josey was killed during another drug buy that turned into a robbery attempt, Lott said.
The sheriff said more arrests are likely in the series of crimes.
In the meantime, he warned “young hoodlums” that resorting to guns is a sure way to end up dead or in prison.
“What we’ve got to do is change the mindset of these young people,” Lott said.
Josey, 18, died of a gunshot to the back after deputies found him Feb. 29 after reports of gunfire in a car that had wrecked on the 400 block of Seton Hall Drive, according to deputies and the Richland County coroner’s office. Josey had multiple wounds to his upper body, the sheriff’s department reported at the time.
Authorities have arrested five teenagers and a 21-year-old in connection to Josey’s death and an attempt to rob Josey. Three 16-year-old suspects, including a girl, have been charged as adults.
Jose Reyes, 17 and an acquaintance of Josey, is charged with murder. Reyes was taken into custody at his home, a few blocks from Columbia Place mall.
Douglas Murphy Jr., 17, turned himself in to investigators and was charged with murder and attempted armed robbery. Thaddeus Lewis, 16, was charged as an adult with murder and attempted armed robbery. Trajan Mack, 16, was charged as an adult with murder and attempted armed robbery.
Sterling Kessler, 16 and a female, was charged as an adult with accessory to a felony before and after the fact of the crime.