COLUMBIA, S.C. — The community of Columbia joined forces on Saturday to tackle the concerning rise of shootings in the city.
Several groups from the South Carolina Midlands partnered with law enforcement to spread their message of peace in Columbia. The community members marched through the streets, chanting "Stop the violence. It starts with us," echoing the sentiment shared by many affected by the shootings.
Gregory Jones, who tragically lost his niece Tiana to a shooting at a Columbia apartment complex in 2022, attended the walk to raise awareness about the unsolved murder.
"Witnesses that see everything, they refuse to talk. It's time out for that. You've got to really help these families that's hurting," he said. "We're tired of wearing shirts, we're tired of having group, organization meetings and we're just tired of violence."
The walk was organized and hosted by G.A.N.G.S in Peace, a Columbia-based non-profit. Participants gathered on Main Street by city hall before marching to the State House.
Families affected by shootings spoke about their pain and their unwavering determination to end the senseless violence.
Paulette Johnson said she lost her son Theron "Boukie" Woodard four years ago to a shooting in Columbia. She said her family is still looking for answers to that murder.
"Events like this can share and pass the word that we do want it to stop," Johnson said. "We want all this to stop because it's nonsense. There's no need for it, you're not gaining anything from it."
Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann acknowledged the growing issue of shootings in the city, with a notable 18% increase in incidents.
"We're at 118 shootings in Columbia in the last 12 months," he said. "We just had another shooting the other night."
Rickenmann hopes a newly-created city position, called the director of violence prevention, can help come up with solutions to this growing problem.
"This is a three-legged stool. It's community, it's law enforcement and it's judicial," he said. "And our judicial system has to step up. We can't continue to all repeat offenders out. They're terrorizing our communities."
In attendance was also Ricky Dyckes Jr., a dedicated member of G.A.N.G.S in Peace. He highlights the importance of long-term solutions, aiming to guide young individuals away from guns and violence.
"We need to take steps and get these kids to coincide living in this world without picking up guns and using violence," he said. "We're going to have an impact on the community, gotta speak it into existence because it's gonna work."