December 30, 2013

No arrests made in Fort Mill shootings that killed two Columbia men

One reason people live and raise kids in the town of Fort Mill, population less than 10,000, is that murders are rare. Until Dec. 14, nobody had been murdered in the town in 2013. In recent memory there had never been multiple killings at the same place at the same time.

But on that awful night, there were two dead from bullets at a party. The killings of two people from the Columbia area, motorcycle club riders, happened at a Lancaster-based motorcycle club event at the rented-out S.C. Army National Guard Armory on Munn Road.

This same armory sent hundreds of soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan in deployments in the past decade. Those soldiers risked their lives fighting for people in those countries to live without fear of violence and murder and attacks at the point of a gun. The soldiers helped institute a system where people could get help when attacked and not be afraid of retribution from thugs or criminals. They trained Afghan military and police. Many received Bronze Stars for valor.

It is the place where soldiers and families cried as the buses pulled out to fight wars for freedom. They are real bands of brothers from that armory.

And now at the same home base of the 1222nd Combat Engineers, cowards who claim to be about a brotherhood of motorcycles showed up with guns and killed two people in Fort Mill, S.C., America. Then the shooters and hundreds more fled.

It was a party, next door to a Catholic church and across the street from Fort Mill High School, that was supposed to be joy, but which turned deadly when outside biker groups showed up. One man ended up dead outside. The other was dead in the bathroom.

Five cops arrived within minutes. Yet hundreds of people around the party left during the chaos of sirens and confusion instead of waiting to talk to the police who responded to help and find out what happened. Two weeks later, despite an “intensive” police investigation that includes local and state police and federal agents, no arrests have yet been made.

All the biker groups involved are not from Fort Mill, or even York County. Yet the bikers who crashed the party with their violence and guns and bullets and death and mayhem brought it to sleepy Fort Mill.

“I heard all the commotion that night; we thought maybe there was a wreck with all the bikes out here,” said Howard Mahaffey, who lives two doors away from the armory. “There was hundreds of people at this one, though. There were bikes all over in the school lot, too. All the events they have had there before, there was never any trouble.”

Don Messer, who lives next door to the armory, also said there has never been problems before when outside groups rented out the armory for events. But this one event, apparently infiltrated by outside biker groups bent on killing, left death just yards from the huge Christmas display Messer puts up every year. The lights and inflatables and the sheer joy of making lives brighter greeted the responding cops.

But now these two men, Mahaffey and Messer, and their families, live next to the spot where murder came to Fort Mill.

The Fort Mill Police Department, the lead agency in the investigation, continues an “intensive” investigation that has brought in help from other law enforcement agencies. But Maj. Bryan Zachary of Fort Mill police declined to release details about what investigators have uncovered in the two weeks since murder came to town. After the killings, all police would say is that at least one biker group showed up with an intent to cause an issue with another club, then hundreds of people sped off without taking time to talk to police about what happened.

That issue turned out to be a double murder.

It remains unclear which motorcycle groups, or members, decided that Fort Mill would be where the latest violence would happen. But Fort Mill drew the short straw. Fort Mill is now home to a so-far-unsolved double homicide.

What is clear is that again, violent biker groups with violent members have turned the motorcycle expression of freedom into a chance to settle old scores and kill. And so far those groups have not done what freedom-loving people really should do if they want true freedom: Help the police put killers in jail. Outsiders brought their violence to Fort Mill, and the local police now have to devote almost all of their resources to investigating a crime that did not involve the people of the town.

These killers turned what is a shrine to freedom – that Fort Mill armory, and the soldiers based there – into a killing zone.

It is clear that the code of silence these motorcycle groups and their members had toward police is not about a love of freedom, but the choices of cowards who brought their guns and their beefs and their bullets to town and then split.

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