The family of Damonte Rivera said officials told them the violence inside Lee Correctional Institution started on Sunday morning. It boiled into a 7-hour riot that left seven inmates dead, including the man they knew as “hammer.”
On Monday, they were left in denial, shock and questioning why the facility wasn’t locked down before growing into a riot. Georgetown native Rivera, convicted in a 2012 murder, was one of the dead.
Rivera’s aunt Desiree Crockett said something needs to be done in the prison and called the staffing “pathetic.”
“Why wasn’t there a lockdown from that point on,” she said. “Why did they wait till it escalated to this point we could have saved seven lives and 17 people wouldn’t be in the hospital now.
“They have a right to breath just like everyone else.”
Rivera — who was serving life in prison for a murder in Georgetown — was identified as one of the inmates killed in the riots at the maximum-security prison that left another 17 injured. State leaders described the riot as one over cell phones and territory.
In November, Rivera moved to Lee Correctional after serving time in three other South Carolina maximum-security facilities.
Lee Correctional, a maximum security prison, houses "violent offenders with longer sentences, and inmates who exhibit behavioral problems. Housing consists of single and double cells, and all perimeters are double-fenced with extensive electronic surveillance, " according to the South Carolina Department of Corrections.
Inmates are closely supervised and movements inside the prison are highly restricted, according to DOC.
According to The State newspaper, the prison had several violent events in recent years. Three weeks ago an officer was held hostage as inmates briefly took control of a dorm at the prison.
An inmate also died during a fight at the prison last July. In January 2016, five inmates were injured in a fight, and five months later, an inmate was killed and another hurt during an incident.
A Georgetown judge sentenced Rivera on robbery, burglary, kidnapping and murder charges for a 2012 home invasion.
After the robbery — in which the suspects pointed a gun at a 10-year-old and toddler — Rivera and Anthony Fraser shot Thomas from behind, according to The Sun News archives.
Thomas was found dead in a wooded area near a path between Legion and Church streets.
Rivera wrote letters from prison and Crockett said she recently received one that include three visitation forms.
“I guess that’s the most devastating part because I look forward to hearing from him,” Crockett said about not receiving any more letters. “And a part of me wanting to think it's not real - I just hope it a bad dream. That someone is just going to call and say it was mistaken identity case or something like that. I just hope its a dream. I still feel like that certain times.
“Then I’ll be like, ‘Yeah its real.’”
Late Sunday, the family started to receive texts about the incident, but not Rivera’s condition. By early morning, the chaplain from the prison phoned and said Rivera died.
“I was kind of prepared for it, I was just awaiting the call,” she said. “I can kind of say shocked and in denial. There was just so many emotions going through at that particular time. I just didn’t know what to believe.
“I just hope that he didn’t suffer through the attack. I hope he was peaceful, and all the other guys ... I just wish whomever died in that attack it was a peaceful death and it was just instantly.”
Rivera’s cousin Dekeria Mosley, who said she was more like a sister than cousin, said it was difficult knowing there would be no more talks with “hammer.”
“It’s a hurtful thing,” Mosley said. “I know the road is not going to be easy, it’s not. I know he wasn’t the best person but he had good in him.”
Mosley described Rivera as a cheerful person, who loved his family and loved playing basketball.
The family admitted Rivera got into trouble, but Crockett said it can happen to any family and some mistakes cost a lot.
Today, those mistakes played a part in Rivera’s death and the family is preparing for one last visit with the 24-year-old at his funeral.
“It’s devastating to the family. It’s devastating to his mom,” Crockett said. She can’t really talk. She doesn’t want to be seen. That’s any mother’s worst nightmare to have to bury their child.”