Thursday, July 17, 2014
Tucked away behind a grove of trees on the west side of Highway 17 in the Litchfield community of Pawleys Island, the normally quiet, calm apartment complex was unusually abuzz with speculation and concern Saturday night.
Residents reported that the afternoon was like many others at Litchfield Oaks.
Families were swimming in the pool, dogs were walked, and babies in strollers were enjoying the afternoon.
Until around 6:30 p.m.
Then according to residents, Georgetown County Sheriff’s Department deputies arrived and began “banging” on a third-floor apartment door in the building adjacent to both the complex office and pool.
Standing across the parking lot, watching the police activity increase, a resident, who was poolside when the incident began, said, “I was at the pool with my family. You could see right up to the apartment, and all of a sudden, I look up and see the cops on the third floor. They were up there for what seemed like an hour, banging on the door.
“We could see people moving around inside, and we could hear yelling coming from inside in the unit.”
The man went on to say that he was concerned, because although he was not a good friend of the woman who lived in that apartment, he and his family had spent time with her at the pool during the summer.
“At one point, we looked up and saw the woman walk over to her Carolina doors, facing the pool, and she closed them,” he said.
“If something bad happened in there, I sure hope her little girl was not in there. That would be awful.”
The man said the woman had a three-year-old daughter who was always with her.
As it turns out, the man at the pool may have been the last resident to see the woman alive.
Sometime between 6:45 and 7 p.m., another resident reported that she was walking toward the office to inquire about “all the commotion” when she clearly heard five large “raps in row, very quickly.”
Looking back, she believes that the “raps” were actually gunshots. The resident went on to say, “I just don’t know what to think, I wish the manager would tell us something so we could all calm down.”
Another recounted, “I knew something bad was happening, but after I heard the gunshots and saw the ambulance arrive, I knew something really bad was going on.”
“I am a retired police officer, and I know gunshots when I hear them, and those were shots fired, I am sure of it.”
As sheriff’s deputies began closing off the scene with yellow police tape, Assistant Sheriff Carter Weaver Jr., emerged from the scene and crossed under the yellow tape. Weaver would not give details, but did confirm that that incident was “an officer-involved shooting.”
He went on to say that the department’s public information officer would release a statement later that evening.
As the police tape began to illuminate in the shadows of the street lamps, and with darkness approaching, the gallery of onlookers increased.
Families with babies in strollers and people with dogs on leashes gathered around a bench next to the pond across from the walkway cordoned off with yellow tape.
It was eerily quiet, as the residents questioned the meaning of Weaver’s comments. Weaver may not have had any details to share, but the one detail he did reveal paired with the arrival of the Georgetown County Coroner fueled the fears and anxiety among the residents and onlookers at the scene.
One woman standing in the group was clearly shaken by the assistant sheriff’s confirmation of a shooting.
“I can’t believe this. I just moved my stuff in today. This is awful. I just moved here ... this is very disturbing.”
A young couple, who had been standing at the scene for over two hours, waiting to hear something, comforted the new resident.
“Look, we just moved here too, and this is a safe community. This is very odd, and just not normal for this place.”
Other residents agreed, but were upset with the apartment management for not informing them that a shooting had taken place.
“You are going to stand there and tell me everything is alright, and then the sheriff comes out and says there has been a shooting, and then the coroner shows up? To me, that does not speak to ‘everything is all right.’”
“You can’t tell me everything is fine and we are all safe,” said another. “I saw an ambulance take what looked like a cop to the hospital earlier. Are you sure it was cop?”
“I saw it, too, but all I could see was a grey shirt that looked the same color as what the cops have on. I thought it looked like a cop uniform, but I’m just not sure,” said another bystander.
The group of residents was just beginning to try and put all the puzzle pieces together when the coroner, after speaking with a few deputies, and without going up to the scene, got back in his vehicle and left.
The residents’ frustration and their fear of the unknown began to get the best of them.
“What in the world?” one man asked. “There is s shooting, the coroner comes and then he just leaves?” He and everyone else was puzzled by this. The retired police officer explained to his fellow residents, “He can’t go up there until SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) gets here. They have to clear the scene before he can enter, and it’s just protocol, no big deal.”
No big deal to the former cop was a huge deal to the residents gathered next to the pond that evening.
The gallery of concerned residents began to dwindle down as the night wore on. “Ugh! I can’t take this. They are not going to tell us anything and I might as well go home,” exclaimed a very upset woman.
Another woman at the scene was extremely concerned with the whereabouts of the three-year-old child another witness had mentioned earlier.
“Where is her little girl? Was she in there? Who has been shot? Was it the woman? Was it the cop? What are we supposed to think? I want someone to tell me something.’’
As the night wore on, one-by-one the residents returned to their apartments. Around 10 p.m., local SLED officials confirmed they had called in an investigative team from Columbia, and that team would not arrive until around midnight.
They went on to say that the investigation would be quite lengthy, and could take most of the remainder of the night.
With that news, almost all of the bystanders exchanged contact information with one another and turned to walk away from a very sad, eerily quiet, and confusing crime scene.
One lone woman sat on the bench next to the pond.
“Why? Why did this have to happen, and why won’t they tell us anything? I just want to know so I can sleep.”