“It’s hard because when I pulled up that day I was expecting for it to be a normal day,” Ronetta Grate said, but by 2 p.m. her Saturday would become a nightmare.
Grate was on her way to Charleston for a seminar when she stopped by the house of Charles “Kash” Willis, her children’s father, to let their 9-year-old son, Kash Willis, and 13-year-old daughter, Amiyante Willis, run in to ask their father for money.
“He was a very loving father at every basketball game, at every dance recital, at every prom. No matter what it was, he was there for his kids,” Grate said. “Anybody that had him as a father was a very lucky child.”
Just months before, Willis had rented a house and was operating a custom car shop out of the garage next door to Gerald’s Convenience Store & Grille just north of Conway on U.S. 701.
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Grate said she stayed in the truck and watched her children race to their father’s door “to see who was going to get the most money.”
Kash was first to the door.
“They knocked on the door and no one answered,” she said. That was unusual just like the call the younger Kash had made to his father that day that went oddly unanswered and unreturned.
“I see him open the door and they stepped in,” Grate said. Then, just as quick as they entered, “he pulled the door back together and ran back hollering and screaming, him and Amiyante. I asked him what’s wrong and he said, ‘Somebody killed my daddy! Somebody killed my daddy!’”
Grate got out of the truck.
“I went to the door. I placed my hand on the doorknob and I took a deep breath,” she said, pausing as her cheeks flooded with rivulets of tears. “I opened the door and he was lying face-down in a pool of blood.”
In their panic, the family ran to a nearby man, asking for help, but their pleas were met with resistance, Grate said. “My kids begged and pleaded for somebody to help save their daddy. Nobody could help,” she said, through sniffles.
Willis was dead. He was 36 years old.
“To think about living my daily life without him, I don’t know what we’re going to do ... and my heart is broken into a million pieces,” Grate said, through another onslaught of tears.
Horry County Deputy Coroner Tony Hendrick said Willis was pronounced dead at 2:30 p.m.. He had suffered “multiple gunshot wounds,” Hendrick said.
The family said money and a chain from Willis’ neck were missing from the home.
“My kids will be traumatized for the rest of their life because somebody was cold-hearted enough to take him away,” Grate said.
Willis’ sister, Cecelia Glover, who raised him like her own son after their mom died, shook with grief as she talked about the man who was ripped from their lives.
“If my kids don’t call me every day I have a problem and that’s where this is going to hurt me because I call them and check on them every day,” Glover said, as her face washed with tears. “And I feel like I should have did something different because I had just talked to him and (now) I’m not going to see him no more. I’m not going to be able to see him no more!”
Willis left behind a large and close-knit family, including four children, 16-year-old Shyanasia Willis, Amiyante, Kash and 2-year-old Arkeenon Willis.
“Charles was a great father to his kids,” Grate said. “He loved his kids. No matter what we went through those kids were always his top priority. He would always go the extra mile. He would always say, ‘It’s almost time for Shyanasia to go to college. I’m trying to work and save money. She’s got to go to college.’”
Willis’ family says he was also “big on holidays” and family time. He was the life of the party and could bust rhymes in a rap like a pro.
“There was nothing that he wouldn’t do for anybody if they needed him to do it,” Grate said, fighting a wave of grief. “I’m just heartbroken because I don’t understand (how) somebody could come into your house that knows you and take you away from your children, take you away from your family and just take you away from everybody that loves you.”
Willis’ funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Friendship Baptist Church. A viewing for family will be held from 5-6 p.m. and for friends from 6-8 p.m. at Ocean View Funeral Home & Cremation Service.
The investigation into Willis’ killing continues.