A fringe area of Conway in unincorporated Horry County was rocked by violence as a rash of unrelated shootings, which involved two murders, happened in mid June into mid July. But the area has since gone quiet.
The county has seen other shooting violence recently with the murder of a 27-year-old man in Loris on Thursday and a Carolina Forest resident of Waterford Plantation being fired at when disrupting a suspect breaking into cars in the dead of night.
But since the last shooting that was reported on Wayside Drive on July 10, the particular pocket of an incorporated Conway that had seen the string of shootings has quieted in recent weeks when it comes to gunfire.
What’s been happening
On July 15, the remains of a missing Conway couple were discovered in the Bucksville area just south of the Conway area that had been plagued by violence.
Horry County Police Department Chief Joseph Hill said earlier this month that police were working hard to address the recent rash of violence that all seemed to be coincidentally happening in the same roughly 5- to 10-mile radius, with the most recent incident occurring the evening of July 10 when a man sitting on the porch of a home on Wayside Road was shot and injured.
About two weeks prior to that shooting, on the morning of June 26, 66-year-old Dennis Mantel of the Myrtle Beach area was found shot in a taxi cab he had been driving that had crashed into a home on Juniper Bay Road, not far from Wayside Road. He later died that morning at a hospital.
Police named 23-year-old Marion Javon Campbell as a suspect in connection with the case.
Beau Street in the Conway area – a road only several miles away from Juniper Bay and Wayside roads – was the site of a shooting the weekend before that. Horry County officers were called there for shots fired and met with an upset woman who told police her home had been shot at. No one was injured during that incident.
About a week prior on June 13, Beau Street had seen an unrelated, deadly drive-by shooting when a bullet ripped through a home, killing 48-year-old Darryl Hunte. The house was occupied by six others at the time, including an 8-year-old boy.
Richard Andrew Whidby, 19, of Conway was arrested in connection with the shooting and faces charges of murder and attempted murder.
Later that same week on June 15, Horry County police were called to Harper Road for a shooting about 6 p.m. and found a Coastal Carolina University student with one to two gunshot wounds in his back, according to an incident report.
Police arrested 27-year-old Ryan Nicholas Graham and 18-year-old Symaria Jeona Shannon outside the Econo Lodge on Veterans Boulevard in Kenner, La., in connection with the incident.
That week in mid-June leading up to Father’s Day weekend had also been a violent one for Conway as two shootings were reported within the city limits – one on Monday night involving a man’s Fifth Street home that was hit by gunfire and the other that led to a woman being hospitalized following a shooting on Creel Street.
Lt. Selena Small, spokeswoman with Conway police, said no other shootings with injuries have been reported following those incidents, and police are continuing to work leads as they come in on those cases.
Hill said the different suspects believed to be involved in the Conway-area string of shootings are all from that region, but each eruption of violence stems from different causes.
“All these incidents are separate,” he said, which makes the situation more difficult for police compared to when they believe one group or person is the culprit behind ongoing incidents.
Hill said it’s easier for police to track and focus resources toward a group moving together, but when unrelated domestic violence, bar fights or robberies break out, it’s harder for police to pinpoint.
“Having 100 cops on the street is not going to prevent somebody in their home from … committing an act of violence … an act of passion,” he said.
Who’s behind it and what’s being done
Hill said earlier this month that more patrols were being utilized in the Conway area where all the shootings happened and that he had also been working with his violent crimes task force to find out what sort of resources they needed while also working with county leaders.
“There’s no rhythm or reason to a lot of this stuff, and it’s hard for us to pin down and try to throw some resources at it to prevent it,” he said and stated that extra patrolling officers doesn’t really impact violent crimes stemming from domestic issues. “There are beefs inside homes and trailers, there are domestics, there’s family violence issues … so having a patrol car on the street – for those particular incidents – I don’t think is effective, but I think we are having an impact on street-level crimes.”
Though police have had a stronger presence there, Hill said Thursday it was difficult to say why the region plagued by frequent shooting violence had suddenly been so quiet.
He said sometimes the bad elements move away, get arrested or unfortunately get killed themselves.
Hill said earlier this month that there’s a 10 percent group of the county’s population that encompasses repeat or career criminals committing the majority of these acts that often make headlines.
The department is working with federal partners to bring federal charges against them, which can lead to lengthy sentences. The 15th Circuit Horry County Solicitor’s Office also recently established the ability to use federal power locally.
“We’re talking about the worst of the worst in our communities that are continually coming up on our radar for committing crimes,” Hill said.
He also said communication with other departments is something that’s key and all agencies work together in a strong partnership to stop criminals.
While activity has been heating up in the county, Small said outside the two shootings in mid-June, they haven’t experienced an uptick in shooting violence but are mindful of what’s happening next door to them.
She said Conway and Horry County police communicate daily and always alert one another of any significant incidents happening.
“Countywide we all share information. … You’re aware that at any point in time someone may travel to your city … that’s why we share intelligence,” she said.
The recent violence on the fringes of the city hasn’t prompted tactics like additional patrols for Conway police, but they are always on guard and are changing communication strategies when meeting with residents in an attempt to learn information about the shootings, Small said.
“I believe if crime happens two feet away from the city then that’s our trouble too,” said Conway Mayor Barbara Blain Bellamy.
“This is not contained to Conway, Horry County or even South Carolina. It is more of what we see, and unfortunately, more of what is becoming our norm,” she said.
Getting to the root of the problem
Utilizing available resources and performing new tactics that will lead to arrests is an immediate way police are working to combat issues, but officials are also taking a long-range approach.
Hill said Horry County police are taking a multifaceted approach to fighting crime countywide that includes some creative ways and new approaches.
The department has ramped up its social media campaign recently, and Hill said Facebook has been helping them catch criminals.
He said a community engagement unit has been launched and that the motorcycle unit he started about four months ago is a part of that.
The motorcycle unit is small so far, but he hopes to grow it. Hill has been holding community meetings around the county as well, and hopes to help areas get more involved in spreading safety tips and establishing neighborhood watches too.
He said reaching out to area youth in new ways in an effort to keep youth violence down is also something police are working on.
“We want to be creative. We’re trying new things, because old things haven’t worked, or what’s worked before isn’t working now,” he said on dealing with youth violence.
He said they’re calling on outside resources, such as area churches and organizations with job resources to aid them.
Small also said Conway police have been getting more involved with area youth and said they recently established a buddy card program that has kids meet and get the signatures of eight officers.
Once kids collect them, they head down to the police department for a prize package.
Bellamy said today’s youth are in trouble and that idleness and lack of childcare arrangements during the busier summer months for kids have fueled the fires.
“I think the responsibility is ours to keep children engaged, to teach them the difference between wrong and right, to get them involved with adults who are good mentors, to teach good work ethics, to give them the opportunity to work,” she said.
A plea for help from the community
A common complaint among police is the lack of cooperation they sometimes run into within communities that include those who are victims or witnesses to crimes, and authorities say having the public’s help is vital to solving cases.
“The stakeholders in the community have to be willing to work with us for us to be able to solve a lot of crime going on, and … really make a difference,” said Small. “That’s why it’s so critical that when people know something or have seen something to try to let us know and help us on the front end.”
Small urged anyone to call police if they see any kind of suspicious activity in the community and said what may seem insignificant to them could be a big piece of the puzzle to police.
“Please call us. If you see something that’s odd, if your gut’s telling you something isn’t right, go ahead and give us a call,” she said. “It’s the community and law enforcement working together to solve the problem that’s going on and help us come up with solutions and really be successful.”
Small and Hill both said they understand the fear of speaking out sometimes creates a stranglehold on people who know something, and said there are ways people can share information anonymously.
“When we go to crime scenes, folks are scared to talk to us because that 10 percent in the community is watching,” said Hill.
Both agencies participate in a program called Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry, which is a program designed to aid police in solving crimes by receiving tips passed on by anonymous callers who can provide them by calling 1-888-CRIME-SC. Callers may also obtain rewards if their information helps lead to arrests.
Hill said Horry County police just recently became a part of the program a few weeks ago.
Hill said he’s seen how removing those bad elements from the community can change it for the better and said earlier this year key arrests made a big difference in one local community and others.
“If you ride through that community after those arrests, folks are now sitting out on their porches,” he said. “Kids are playing in their front yard where they didn’t do that before because of the stranglehold these individuals and this group had on that community.”
Horry County police stats
Jan. 1-July 21
Murder & Nonnegligent Manslaughter 11
Negligent Manslaughter 1
Kidnapping / Abduction 17
Aggravated Assault 316
Murder & Nonnegligent Manslaughter 18
Negligent Manslaughter 1
Justifiable Homicide 1
Kidnapping / Abduction 39
Aggravated Assault 616
City of Conway stats
Jan. 1, 2017 to June 30, 2017
Homicide - 0
Kidnapping - 9
Rape - 11
Robbery - 10
Aggravated Assault - 42
Homicide - 3
Kidnapping - 12
Rape - 18
Robbery - 26
Aggravated Assaults - 99