How the Florence police shooting unfolded
Deputies arrived at a large two-story home with a well-manicured lawn to execute a search warrant around 4 p.m. in Florence on Wednesday.
They were there to look for evidence connected to an allegation of sexual assault on a minor, according to police officials.
But the people inside knew police were coming.
Without warning, in the Vintage Place neighborhood of upscale homes with pools and 60-foot-long driveways, a hail of gunfire rang out. A shooter, barricaded inside with children, fought with police for two hours. Distressed first responders warned comrades to stay away. It was an ambush.
When the dust settled, a Florence police sergeant was killed. Six other officers were wounded.
A disabled Vietnam veteran and disbarred lawyer, 74-year-old Fred T. Hopkins Jr., eventually surrendered to a negotiator around 6 p.m.
He was charged Friday with the murder of 52-year-old Terrence Carraway, a 30-year veteran of the Florence Police Department, as well as six additional counts of attempted murder, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced in a press conference. His agency is handling the investigation in conjunction with the FBI.
The community has been “in the grips of emotions ranging from pain to anger and guilt,” Florence Mayor Stephen Wukela said in a Thursday press conference.
As of Friday afternoon, there were more questions than answers about the nation’s bloodiest police officer shooting since July 2016, when five Dallas officers were killed and nine wounded.
“We as a city have spent the last 24 hours only half believing the stark reality of what has occurred,” Wukela said.
It all started when Florence County Sheriff deputies contacted the family to arrange an interview with 28-year-old Seth Hopkins and execute a search warrant. He lives at the residence on Ashton Drive and was under investigation for criminal sexual assault, Lott said.
“These officers were ambushed very quickly,” Lott said. “As soon as they got there, the ambush was in place.”
A shooter was on the second floor with a “high-powered rifle,” said state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. He had a clear line of sight that extended several hundred yards.
“He had an advantage,” Florence County Sheriff Kenney Boone said.
Three deputies were immediately wounded. The first “officer down” call came at 4:38 p.m., according to radio recordings from the West Florence Fire Department obtained by McClatchy newspapers.
One minute later, the dispatcher repeated the call and added, “Suspect is still firing. Use precaution.”
The cries for help prompted an immediate response. Officers from the Florence Police Department quickly arrived, but they, too, came under attack. Four of them were wounded, including Sgt. Carraway.
“Fire was being shot all over,” Boone said.
A 40-second video obtained by The Post and Courier shows a neighbor recording the constant drumbeat of gunshots echoing throughout the subdivision.
At 4:50 p.m., a voice came over the fire department’s radio channel: “(The) situation is not getting any better. Please, please stay out of Vintage Place until we call. … Just get out of Vintage Place altogether.”
Three minutes later, another voice called to shut down the entire neighborhood.
“At this point, (police) don’t want anybody coming in or out,” the man’s voice said.
Around 5 p.m., the county’s emergency management officials warned of an active shooter incident in progress and told citizens to stay away.
Meanwhile, the seven wounded officers were still pinned down near the house, unable to move or be rescued.
“It seemed like it was forever” before those officers could be rescued, said Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler.
They were trapped among the gunfire for maybe 30 minutes, Heidler said, but he couldn’t be sure. Law enforcement had to use a military-style vehicle to bring the injured to safety.
The MRAP (or mine resistant ambush protected) is a “highly-survivable” vehicle that can withstand improvised explosive devices and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center.
At 5:28 p.m., another voice came over the radio and asked for a “casualty collection point (at Barclay and Saxon drives). All the patients are coming out here.”
Two Florence police officers have since been released from the hospital, while one is in serious but stable condition. Sgt. Carraway died of his injuries.
Chief Heidler praised the 31-year veteran as “the bravest police officer I have ever known.”
“He was the epitome of a community police officer,” Heidler added. “Serving Florence was his passion.”
Three county deputies are in critical condition, Lott said.
The incident, filled with panic and terror, lasted about two hours before Hopkins eventually surrendered to a negotiator. Hopkins has two sons with ties to law enforcement.
When asked why the Hopkins family was given advance notice of the impending search warrant and interview, Lott said, “If you want to interview someone, you need to arrange to interview them. ... How are you going to meet someone if you’re not going to set it up?”
Heidler said his officers were “obviously distraught” but they had “great resolve to protect this community.”
“Those cops put their badges on every single day and they know what tragedy could await them,” he said. “They kiss their wives; they kiss their husbands; they kiss their significant others, with the thought that they’re going to return.”
In the days since the tragic shooting, other law enforcement agencies have offered support to give Florence officers time off.
Heidler said his officers responded with, “No, chief. We’ve got it. This is our city and we’re going to protect it.”