Elmurray “Billy” Bookman was cutting hair at his barber station, the second chair from the door, when two masked men, one wielding a pistol and the other carrying a shotgun, entered Next Up Barber & Beauty, he said.
Minutes later, Bookman and one of his customers drew their weapons as the robbers were taking money from customers and employees. They fired shots that left one of the suspects dead and sent another on the run just before 7 p.m. Friday.
“The kids were crying, hollering, and their parents were hollering,” Bookman said. “I think (the suspects) were getting kind of frustrated. They started putting their hands on some of the customers.”
About 20 people, including several women and children, were at the barbershop on Fort Jackson Boulevard. It sits behind the Applebee’s restaurant on Devine Street, across from the Cross Hill Market that houses Whole Foods.
Bookman said he just wanted to protect the crowd of people inside the shop.
The men forced one of the shop’s customers and one of the barbers to the floor, Bookman said. Then the man with the pistol started taking money out of the pockets of the barbers’ jackets, he said.
When asked for his money, the customer in Bookman’s chair told the suspect with the pistol that his money was at a chair along the wall, Bookman said.
When that suspect turned his back to go search the customers sitting along the wall, Bookman’s client pulled his own gun and fired at the suspect. Bookman, too, pulled his weapon out and shot at the suspect, he said.
“I was thinking we had to keep everybody safe,” he said.
At the first sound of gunshots, the suspect carrying the shotgun turned and ran out the front door, Bookman said. The man with the pistol ran out the back door, down the steps and down the street. He was found and taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later, police said.
Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said Saturday he was trying to locate the man’s family before releasing his identity.
The second suspect, who also might have been shot, was being sought by police, who had not provided any updates as of Saturday afternoon.
None of the victims at the barbershop was injured, police said.
Chris Nowell, the owner of the barber shop, had been eating dinner in the back of the shop at the time of the robbery. He said he watched a bullet fly over his head before running out the back and to Applebee’s to call the police.
The gunshots took out one of the television sets mounted in a back corner and left at least five bullet holes in the walls toward the back of the shop.
In almost 15 years of business, nothing like what happened Friday night has ever happened at Next Up, Nowell said.
Nowell said he was feeling OK on Saturday, “as long as nobody in here got hurt.”
“I guess the ones that did the crime, they got hurt, and I guess that’s their penalty,” Nowell said.
Both men who shot at the suspects had “valid concealed weapons permits,” Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said in a news release late Friday night.
A gun used by one of the suspects was reported stolen from a South Columbia home in 2012, Holbrook said.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call CrimeStoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC, text CRIMES (274637) and mark the beginning of the message with “TIPSC” followed by the tip information, or log onto www.midlandscrimestoppers.com and click on the red “Submit a tip” tab.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.