A fatal shooting Saturday night at Finlay Park occurred in one of the city’s most visible gathering places and one week before Columbia’s outdoor concert series cranks up at the park off Assembly Street.
Does that mean the city should beef up security at the park, particularly when the music starts flowing next weekend?
City Council members Tameika Isaac Devine, Sam Davis and Howard Duvall said police presence at the park already is strong, especially during the concert series. They said the shooting was disturbing, but expressed confidence that police Chief Skip Holbrook would keep the park safe for visitors.
“When the summer comes, the chief tends to try to beef up patrols and security everywhere,” Devine said. “Whether this particular instance raises additional concerns, I’d defer to the chief. But I haven’t heard anything.”
Efforts to reach Holbrook were unsuccessful Monday. It was not known how many officers typically work concerts at Finlay Park or how many patrol there on a regular basis. Mayor Steve Benjamin also was not available.
Duvall said he has spoken with Holbrook about security in Columbia as a result of “international events” and he’s confident the chief is “well aware of our responsibilities to provide a secure environment for any event to take place in the city of Columbia.”
Saturday’s shooting is believed to be one of the first, if not the first, killing in the park’s 27-year history, city officials said. The incident occurred about 10:15 p.m. in the upper part of Finlay Park, which is more than 100 yards away from the lawn where the concerts are held on weekends during the summer.
Columbia police were still searching for a suspect, but said Monday night the department is also looking for two young women. The women are believed to have “information regarding the shooting that can aid the case,’’ department spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said in an email. The department previously has said the shooting might have been tied to an argument.
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts identified the victim as 37-year-old Laron L. Martin of Carroll Drive in West Columbia. Martin died at Palmetto Health Richland at 2:37 a.m. Sunday, the coroner’s office said. An autopsy indicated that he died from a gunshot wound to the torso.
While Devine, Davis and Duvall said they are confident in the police department, Duvall said he favors renovations at Finlay Park to make committing crimes harder. Duvall said he wants to get rid of shrubbery that provides hiding places “for people who are up to no good.”
“I think we have a plan for a good upgrade on Finlay Park that will make it less likely events like this will happen,” Duvall said.
The 18-acre park is slated for a $10 million renovation, although the city has not secured funding to launch the work. The park has two levels and an artificial waterfall, which today has been shut off. The park was established at the site of the old Sidney Park in 1990 and renamed Finlay Park in 1992. Since the original renovation, Finlay Park has been the site of numerous festivals, charity fundraisers, political events and church services.
David Simmons, who was reading the Bible in the park Monday, said he’s not particularly concerned about security at the summer music shows, but he said the police could generally be more visible at Finlay Park during other times of the week.
“I think that (shooting) would probably have happened regardless,” Simmons said. “But why don’t they patrol more often? They have the resources. This is a public park. You shouldn’t even have to debate that.”
This year’s concert series starts Saturday. Concerts will be held every two weeks on Saturdays from 7 to 10 p.m. The series ends Aug. 12.