Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook says guns and other forensic evidence have helped them make arrests in a string of shootings that happened in and around the area over the last six weeks.
Holbrook held a joint news conference Monday afternoon with Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott detailing the arrests in recent crimes, including the shooting of two children at an apartment complex and an incident where shots were fired at the Village at Sandhill.
Investigators say between July 22 and September 5, there were over a dozen shootings, and six of those had direct links.
The primary suspect taken into custody was 20-year-old Markelton Tyvon Stevens, who's charged in three of the crimes. Among the charges he's facing are attempted murder and discharging a firearm into a dwelling.
Officers say Stephens specifically is connected to the August 7 and August 9 shootings that happened at an apartment on Fallings Springs Road. A 13-year-old boy was shot in the head in one of the crimes, and an 11-year-old girl was hit by gunfire in the other. Both are continuing to recover after receiving serious injuries.
A juvenile was also charged in the shooting of the girl.
Holbrook said seeing such vulnerable victims get hurt was hard for investigators. "It really tugs at the heartstrings," he said.
In both cases, forensic investigators linked a .380 caliber handgun to those shootings, as well as three others, including the firing of bullets at the Lorick Circle Apartments and one on Brickyard Road. No people were injured in those other shootings.
"It's amazing how a few handguns could be used in so many violent crimes," Holbrook said.
Officers say they believe a 9 mm handgun was also used in some of those shootings.
Holbrook said in another crime, a gang member was shot in the thigh on Columbia College Drive. A few days after that shooting, Columbia police say 16-year-old Skylar Hillary died in a a fiery car crash on Clement Road on the night of August 14. Officers had pursued him earlier that same evening because they thought he had a suspicious vehicle.
Officers later determined the car was stolen, and inside they found the .40 caliber handgun used in the Columbia College shooting. Officers did not say Hillary was responsible for that shooting, however.
Eventually the evidence collected from that car led investigators to links to the previous shootings, and a shooting near the Village of Sandhill in August.
"The expertise of our investigators and our analysts are working as one," Lott said.
Holbrook and Lott said much of the activity is believed to be gang-related, with suspects seeking revenge for some slight.
"Gang members are running around where they want to and shooting who they want to," Lott said.
"We're going to put a stop to this rampage of shooting that we've got in our community," Holbrook added.
Lott said they've been getting help from the community, but they need more support from family members of the suspects and gang members who are victims but are uncooperative with investigators.
Additional arrests connected to these crimes are expected.