A line of teddy bears and other mementos sat outside the shuttered Murrells Inlet bait shop that caught fire Friday morning.
Jessica Lynn Hill, 36, who ran Perry’s Bait and Tackle nestled along the Marshwalk, was found dead on a boat driven by Eric Justin Perry – who was charged with murder and arson in connection to the incident – following the fire Friday, Georgetown County authorities said.
A sign above the specially laid tributes read “Closed Until Further Notice,” and yellow tape still stretched around the partially turquoise painted building off U.S. 17 Business.
“I started hanging around a year ago,” Justin Chandler, a longtime friend of the Perry family, said. “Me and Jessica hung out a lot. It’s kind of a shock to me. She was like an older sister to me.”
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Chandler, who the Perrys used to babysit, saw Hill about two weeks ago. He said that he would spend time with her while she worked at the shop.
“She was a really nice person,” Chandler said. “She would always try to cheer you up. She would have done anything for anybody. She had three kids. She was a mom and at the same time she ran the shop. I liked being around her.”
Chandler said that Hill started to learn about fishing after she married Perry and began running the shop.
After that, Hill quickly became well-known among the fishing and Inlet community.
“We was just there last weekend and she helped my wife,” Mickey Wright, of Surfside Beach, said. “She was real nice, she was real personable, she was real kind to everybody.”
Hill’s body was found in a boat Friday afternoon as officials searched the water for Perry, 35. Witnesses near the scene said they had seen a male leave the bait shop in a small boat as the shop burned, according to a release from the GCSO.
Smoke billowed from the longstanding bait shop Friday morning, and Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Department crews quickly put out the blaze, according to Assistant Chief J.R. Haney with Murrells Inlet-Garden City Fire Department.
When Chandler heard that officials were searching for Perry, he said that he took a boat out with a friend.
“We saw the Coast Guard and game warden swarming the creek,” Chandler said.
About 1 p.m. Friday, searchers discovered Perry with Hill’s body on board a boat, according to GCSO officials.
Perry has been charged with one count of murder and one count of arson of the second degree, according to a release from the GCSO.
An autopsy to determine Hill’s cause of death was scheduled for the weekend. Results were still pending Saturday afternoon, and more information will likely be available in a couple of days, according to Kenny Johnson, Georgetown County Coroner.
Hill’s death has sent ripples through the Murrells Inlet fishing community, and many have called for prayers for the family.
“We’re all just blown away by this,” Chandler said. “She touched a lot of people’s lives. She had a relationship with everyone. She’ll definitely be remembered around here. She didn’t deserve to be killed. I just don’t understand it.”