Crime & Courts

Gunman killed 2 soldiers, then just walked away, bar owner says

Man charged with killing two soldiers at bar denied bond

Officials say the two soldiers were trying to protect a woman who Joseph Mills, 25, was chasing.
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Officials say the two soldiers were trying to protect a woman who Joseph Mills, 25, was chasing.

The two soldiers killed at a Lake Murray restaurant Sunday came running toward the sound of gunshots to defuse the tense situation and to rescue a woman, the restaurant owner said Tuesday.

Justin Brooks, owner of the Frayed Knot Bar & Grill on Dreher Island Road in Chapin, said he watched his security camera footage of the double homicide over and over Sunday and part of Monday.

Staff Sgt. Charles Allen Judge Jr., 40, and Sgt. 1st Class Jonathon Michael Prins, 29, died after they rushed to help in a standoff with a man that deputies have identified as Joseph Elijah Mills, 25, of Little Mountain. Mills is charged with two counts of murder.

In the footage, the two men can be seen coming to the rescue of a woman who fled to the Frayed Knot, the bar owner said.

“From the footage, there’s a woman running from the far side of the parking lot, darting back and forth like she doesn’t know which way to go,” Brooks said. The woman went past the restaurant’s front door and ran toward a dock area in the back, he said.

The suspect tackled the woman and started hitting and kicking her, the owner said. A group of about 10 people pulled him off, causing him to fall about a foot from the docks to the ground, he said.

“He pulls out his gun, starts shooting in the air,” Brooks said. “Everybody runs except for one gentleman. Even though the gun was there, he was standing there – it looked like he was trying to get the gun. The gentleman’s wife was pulling him away as he was trying to get to the shooter.”

Mills would say later in a court hearing that the woman had run off with drugs and he felt as if he was being lynched.

The gunman got back on the docks and started looking for the woman, Brooks said. That’s when the soldiers arrived.

The two had been on a boat docked near the restaurant with friends. They ran a long distance to get to the gunman after hearing the shots, Brooks said.

“The first one that approaches him has his hands up in the air, like, ‘Let’s slow down and talk about this,’ ” Brooks said. Then, he said, the second soldier came up. Both soldiers were no more than two to five feet from the gunman.

The suspect shot them, Brooks said. Prins was shot three times in left side of his torso and neck, the county coroner has said. Judge was shot twice in the left torso.

“He just walked off like he was shopping in an aisle of a grocery store, just nonchalantly takes the time and walks off,” the owner said of the gunman.

Brooks said he has turned the footage over to law enforcement. The State newspaper has requested the recording from investigators at the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, but has not received a response.

The Frayed Knot opened in January 2014, and Brooks said he has worked to make it a family friendly place. “I have three children of my own ... and they love this place,” he said. “They love to come over and play in the sand.”

Maj. Gen. Robert E. Livingston Jr. remembered Judge, a S.C. National Guardsman, as a hard worker.

“We are especially saddened in losing a member of our Guard family, hardworking and well-liked soldier and instructor, Staff Sgt. Charles Judge,” Livingston said. He called Judge “a great person and leader who had such a positive effect on so many.”

Hunter Crowder, 29, grew up less than half a mile from Prins when the two were boys in Benson, N.C. He said Tuesday that they were more than friends – they were like brothers.

The last time they talked was in March via Facebook, Crowder said.

The last time he saw Prins in person was eight years ago, but the two stayed in touch over Facebook. They planned to get together last week, but weren’t able to make that happen.

Crowder found out this week about the shooting and the death of his friend.

“It shocks the hell out of me that my best friend is gone,” Crowder said. “But the way he died, it does not surprise me. He always was the hero. He always had to be there to save the day.”

Glen Luke Flanagan: 803-771-8305, @glenlflanagan

Memorial for victims in works

Justin Brooks, owner of the Frayed Knot, said he’s planning a memorial for Staff Sgt. Charles Allen Judge Jr. and Sgt. 1st Class Jonathon Michael Prins.

WHEN: Brooks said he’s planning to host it in October, so that families of the victims have time to grieve and he has time to plan the event.

THE PROCEEDS: Brooks said he intends to give all proceeds from food and drink sales to the families of the victims.

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