Charleston Shootings

SC authorities seek answers in 11 2015 mass shootings

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof

Mike Scott, a state highway worker, was upbeat and positive minded, while his wife, Cathy, was more quiet and caring.

They shared their home outside Pendleton with their elderly mothers, and doted on their two grandchildren who lived nearby on their property.

But one day early last month, an intruder walked into the Scott’s home and shot to death the couple and their mothers in a case that has shaken the community and thus far yielded no arrests.

While there are differing definitions of mass shootings, authorities say they are more common. Most are not from terrorism or a deranged gunman randomly spraying strangers with gunfire. Some involve gangs, an altercation at a party or nightclub, domestic issues or other crimes. The challenge for authorities is why, and what can be done to reduce them.

11 Mass shootings in South Carolina to date in 2015

20 People killed by mass shooting in South Carolina in 2015

31 People injured by mass shooting in South Carolina in 2015

The Pendleton slayings along with the killing of nine at a Charleston church in June were among 11 mass shootings in South Carolina so far this year that killed 20 and injured 31, according to Gun Violence Archive, a national database of such crimes reviewed by The Greenville News.

WHAT IS A MASS SHOOTING

That database and others define mass shootings as those in which at least four people are shot, excluding the perpetrator.

The FBI does not use the term mass shooting but it does define mass murder as four or more victims killed at one location. Some researchers do not include injuries in their count of mass shootings.

People used to get in a fist-fight and now they have a gun. They don’t de-escalate. They don’t try to talk it out. They pull a gun. And we see more and more of this type of activity.

Mark Keel, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division

“People used to get in a fist-fight and now they have a gun,” said Mark Keel, chief of the State Law Enforcement Division. “They don’t de-escalate. They don’t try to talk it out. They pull a gun. And we see more and more of this type of activity.”

According to The Washington Post, the shooting in San Bernardino, California, earlier this month was the 355th mass shooting this year in the nation that involved at least four people shot in one location. That’s an average of about one every day.

The day of the San Bernardino shooting, two suspects shot three men and a woman near Savannah, Georgia. The woman died of her injuries. No arrests were reported.

The numbers can be deceiving, said Robert Brame, a criminal justice professor at the University of South Carolina.

Still, Brame said, it is a problem without any clear cause or solution.

“My impression of it is it’s an increasing problem,” he said. “And it’s something that needs to be better understood. We don’t have a lot of scientific understanding of it at this point.”

HISTORICAL VIEW

Keel said murders in South Carolina are about half what they were in the early 1970s. But multiple shootings are more common, he said, part of living in a “violent time.”

Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia criminal defense lawyer who once served as chief prosecutor for Richland and Kershaw counties, said the weapons have changed since he first prosecuted shooting cases in the 1970s.

Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia criminal defense lawyer, said the weapons have changed in mass shootings. Instead of revolvers, where shooters could only get off several shots and were less likely to spray a crowd with bullets, now they have handguns with magazines holding up to 16 bullets, making it easier to fire more shots and hit innocent bystanders.

He said shootings then involved revolvers, where shooters could only get off several shots before re-loading, usually a cumbersome process. So he said they were less likely to spray a crowd with bullets.

More recently, he said, handguns carry clips with magazines holding up to 16 bullets, making it easier to fire more shots and hit innocent bystanders.

IT AFFECTS EVERYONE

Keel said some people value life less than in past years. He said law enforcement needs the public’s help in preventing mass shootings, especially those in which a shooter attacks only strangers.

“Law enforcement can’t be everywhere,” he said. “It takes the public getting involved. It takes vigilance.”

Keel said crimes are prevented by members of the public calling law enforcement and talking when they have concerns of someone they know who they feel could commit an act of violence.

“Law enforcement is able to respond to those,” he said. “We do have a strong relationship. It needs to be stronger.”

Harpootlian said many people talk about the freedoms they are guaranteed in the country but do not talk about their responsibilities.

Every citizen that wants to decry that government wants to limit their freedom to own a gun ought to also embrace the concept that they have a duty to pick up the phone and call some governmental entity or authority if they have any reason to believe someone is going to commit mass murder or a heinous act.

Dick Harpootlian, a Columbia criminal defense lawyer

“Every citizen that wants to decry that government wants to limit their freedom to own a gun,” he said, “ought to also embrace the concept that they have a duty to pick up the phone and call some governmental entity or authority if they have any reason to believe someone is going to commit mass murder or a heinous act.”

He said people should watch what their neighbors do and speak up if they see something that concerns them. That may not prevent shootings at a nightclub or at a party, he said, but could prevent shootings like those in Charleston or San Bernardino.

He said the shootings are happening at a time when violence is common in entertainment and almost engrained in the nation’s culture.

“I’m not blaming Hollywood,” he said. “If you read the Old Testament, there’s a lot of smoke going on in there. It’s certainly not a cultural phenomenon, though it is part of our culture.”

WHAT CAN BE DONE

Brame said those studying the issue need better data. The FBI not only doesn’t track mass shootings, however they are defined, it does not even capture all homicides, he said.

“There’s a lot of work to do in this area,” he said.

But he also urges the public to put these shootings in context.

“There are bad things that happen all over the country every day,” he said. “This is alarming because we haven’t had them at this frequency in the past. But it’s still a very rare thing.”

A quick look at the 11 mass shootings in SC so far this year

The most infamous of mass shootings this year occurred in Charleston, when a white male was accused of walking into Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and shooting to death eight black parishioners and their pastor, Sen. Clementa Pinckney, after a Bible study meeting.

A federal grand jury indicted Dylann Roof on hate-crimes and other charges, and federal prosecutors have alleged Roof had racial motives in his attacks.

Authorities have investigated 10 other mass shootings in addition to the Charleston church shooting. While some have puzzled investigators, many stem from fights or feuds, sometimes at clubs or social events.

  • Four people were shot at a crowded Charleston nightclub in February, after a suspect shot at a man as a result of a longstanding feud, according to investigators. The firing started inside the club and continued outside. Two of the victims were twin brothers, shot in the stomach.
  • In March, a fight broke out at a Seneca bar and gunshots rang out. As many as 100 people may have been in the crowd when the fight started. One man was killed, and two men and one woman injured from gunshots.
  • In August, a man in a car fired in to a crowd outside an Orangeburg club at 4 am, killing one and injuring three. Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell said at the time the shootings followed a fight in the parking lot.
  • That same month, a man was arrested and charged in connection with a shooting incident at a Bennettsville nightclub that left five people wounded.
  • In October, two suspects fired into a Bamberg pool hall, injuring four people. No motive was reported.
  • In November, four people were shot as a party broke up at a home outside Conway. One person was found shot in the arm and leg in the kitchen, two others were found with gunshot wounds in the living room and another was at the front door when he discovered he had been shot in the back, police said. Witnesses said they did not see a shooter.
  • Also in November, a couple and their mothers were found shot to death at a home in Pendleton.
  • Also that month, one man was killed and three wounded after one car full of men began firing on another car. According to sworn statements, the men in one car pursued a man in the other car out of retaliation but did not detail what the retaliation was about.
  • In August, four men were shot in Columbia in a drive-by shooting police believed was linked to an argument between two groups. Two of the victims were gang members, Columbia’s police chief said at the time.
  • One of state’s mass shootings this year that remains a mystery occurred in Orangeburg County. In July, authorities responded to a call about gunshots at a Holly Hill home in Orangeburg County. They found one man dead in the front yard, two teenagers shot to death in a bedroom and a female shot to death in another bedroom. An 8-year-old boy was wounded. Authorities searched for a Mercedes believed to be connected to the incident and found it burned 15 miles away. Last month, authorities arrested two people and charged them with obstruction in the case but thus far no one has been charged with murder.

Greenville News

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