Bond Set at $5 Million for Suspect in Cemetery Attack

A 64-year-old man has been charged with 12 counts of attempted murder after police say he drove his car into a crowd of mourners at the Greenlawn cemetery.

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Columbia police now say a man targeted a funeral for a Columbia woman because of resentment he had with South Carolina's mental health agency. 

James Kester, 64, appeared in court Thursday morning, where a judge set bond for him at $5 million. When he complained that the bond was too "steep," the judge asked if he wanted him to raise it, but the suspect quickly said no. 

Kester is facing a total of 12 counts of attempted murder related to the crime. 

Police say the victims, who were all part of the same family, were attending a graveside service Wednesday afternoon at Greenlawn Cemetery on Garners Ferry Road when they were struck by Kesler's sedan.

Police now have revealed that Kester had resentment for the Department of Mental Health over an issue involving his now deceased daughter. The funeral at Greenlawn, it turns out, was for a woman who had worked for the agency for a long time.

Investigators told the judge the man asked mourners if  the funeral was for the former mental health employee, and they said yes. However, they said that he used the woman's first name, which was different from what family and friends called her, which they thought was odd at the time.

A few minutes later, officers say he drove his car into the group.

While officers think he targeted the funeral because of the grudge, they do not believe that he knew any of the family members. 

One of those family members described the scene as mass chaos, something out of a movie or TV show.

VIDEO: Family Members Describe Scene as 'Surreal'

The victims all had what are described as non life-threatening injuries, and were taken to the hospital for treatment. A cousin said the six family members are still in the hospital and are having surgery. One of them is in intensive care with a head injury.

Other injuries include broken arms, legs, and a hip. The victims ranged in age from 78 to 11 years old.

VIDEO: Drone shows scene of where car hit family at Columbia funeral 

If Kesler makes bond, he cannot have contact with the victims, cannot drive, and will have to wear a GPS monitor.

The person for whom the funeral was being held was buried, officials with the cemetery say. The general manager of Greenlawn Memorial Park sent News 19 a statement from the victims' family: "...They do, however, appreciate all the thoughts and prayers being offered on their behalf. For those wishing to send cards and well wishes, please direct those to the memorial park office in an effort to protect the family's privacy at this time."

Greenlawn was closed for the day, but will reopen at 8 a.m. Thursday. 

 

© 2017 WLTX-TV


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