Dozens of people rushed in every direction from a Vista nightclub when gunfire erupted early Saturday morning in one of Columbia’s most popular nightlife districts.
Eight people were injured in the shooting that happened outside the Empire Supper Club, which police have since shut down and declared a nuisance.
Two opposing groups were the source of multiple rounds of gunfire shortly after 2:10 a.m. outside the Empire Supper Club at 920 Lady St., at the corner of Park Street, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said at a noon news conference. Police officers responded in seconds, Holbrook said.
It was not a random or drive-by shooting, Holbrook said. Police have not confirmed whether there was any gang affiliation among the shooting parties, he said.
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Police are talking to multiple people of interest and have identified several vehicles of interest, Holbrook said. No arrests have been made. Police are searching for multiple suspects and believe multiple handguns were involved in the shooting, Holbrook said.
The club has been shut down and padlocked, Holbrook said, adding that it has been the site of other disturbing incidents in the past. Drops of blood were splattered on the sidewalk outside the club on Saturday.
Four men and four women, ranging in age from 22 to 52, were injured, with their conditions ranging from stable to critical as of around 10 a.m. Some were from Columbia, some from neighboring counties, and one from out of state, Holbrook said.
One was a Kentucky football fan who was in town for Saturday’s game against the University of South Carolina. She was shot in the face, according to Facebook posts by her boyfriend.
University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides said he was unable to speak with Brannon or visit Massey when he stopped by the hospital earlier on Saturday. He did say, however, that Massey was receiving the “absolute best care” that could be provided.
Pastides lamented the shooting and that innocent victims were injured. As of Saturday, Pastides said that he had received no reports that any USC student was involved in the shooting.
Just hours after the shooting, downtown Columbia would host tens of thousands of people for a slate of major events: the University of South Carolina’s first home football game, the Greek Festival, the Jubilee: Festival of Black History and Culture and the weekly Soda City Market, which is located only a few blocks from the club where the shooting happened.
Empire Supper Club bills itself as an upscale nightclub. According to the club’s website, the club is open only to people ages 25 and up on Friday nights and “no hardcore rap music” is played on those nights. It sits across a parking lot from the Art Bar, a longtime, popular Vista bar, and not far from Panera Bread, Pearlz Oyster Bar and the Oyster Bar.
The shooting happened just after closing time for most downtown bars and clubs.
Bakari Sellers, an attorney representing Empire owner Joe Stovall, said Stovall and the club are cooperating with police and, in fact, helped locate one of the weapons believed to be involved in the shooting.
When asked for a reaction to Holbrook’s decision to suspend the club’s business license, Sellers said, “It is the only club closed. If a shooting happened outside Subway, would he shut down the Subway?”
A hearing will be held to revoke Stovall’s license permanently, Sellers said.
Police are searching for the people who were in two cars – a black Mustang with paper tags and a dark-colored, four-door BMW – who might have information about the shooting.
Police said the injuries the victims received ranged from “grazes to critically injured.” The injured were rushed to Palmetto Health Richland hospital by ambulance or private vehicle.
Park Street was closed off between Lady and Gervais streets overnight, and officers were interviewing those who were walking along the area at that time.
“I just think as the investigation develops, we’ll get leads,” Deputy Chief Melron Kelly said overnight. “Someone knows something. This is the heart of downtown Columbia.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin tweeted Saturday morning that he was “sick & tired of this culture of senseless violence that grips our country.”
Holbrook, too, denounced the violence, saying, “We have got to recognize that gun crime can’t be tolerated.”
As of Saturday morning, no arrests had been announced.
In a tweet shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday, Columbia police said their investigators “are making tremendous progress. This is a team effort with all hands on deck.” Video cameras in the area have been a valuable tool, they said.
The Vista Guild business association said Saturday morning it had asked all its business owners to provide any video they have from their own security cameras to police.
“The Vista Guild’s thoughts are with the victims of this terrible incident last night, first and foremost,” the Guild wrote in a Facebook post. “We are in frequent communication with the Columbia Police Department, who by all accounts, responded swiftly and is making this a top priority.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Crimestoppers at 888-CRIME-SC, where you can leave an anonymous tip.
Check back for updates to this developing story.
OTHER VISTA GUNFIRE INCIDENTS
There have been several other incidents of gunfire in the Vista in recent years.
In November 2016, an early morning shooting on Gervais near Gadsden Street left a man shot in the leg. Five men were arrested, four of them charged with unlawfully carrying a gun.
In November 2014, a shooting at Lucky 13 – at 920 Lady St., where the Empire Supper Club is now – wounded one person and damaged nearby vehicles.
In June 2014, a man was arrested several days after someone fired a handgun into a crowd of people on Lincoln Street near Lady Street.
In December 2012, a man who had just gotten into his parked car with his girlfriend was shot in the chest on Lincoln Street, close to the intersection with Gervais Street.
The Empire Supper Club is the third bar in Columbia that has voluntarily or involuntarily been closed recently under the city’s nuisance business ordinance.
In May 2017, the owner of The Pour House in Five Points agreed to give up the bar’s business license as Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook moved to close it as a nuisance. A State newspaper analysis of police records showed the bar served alcohol after hours 10 times, underage customers have been caught six times with fake IDs and the bar has been the site of fights more than a dozen times. The newspaper examined months of police records dating to Summer 2016.
In December 2015, police closed Lucky 13, the predecessor to Empire Supper Club, after calls concerning weapons, gunfire, assault, larcenies, drug use and overcrowding.
In May 2015, police closed The Library in Five Points after declaring it a public nuisance because of gunfire and a string of other violent incidents.