COLUMBIA, S.C. — In 2020, South Carolina set an all-time record for murders.
According to police, the Palmetto State saw a huge increase in violent crime last year. 2021 is on track to be even deadlier.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented level of violent crime," Deputy Chief Stan Smith with the Richland County Sheriff's Department said. "Our murder numbers, if we keep on track, will be substantially greater than they’ve ever been, which is alarming to us.”
Smith said Richland County experienced a lot of violence last year, he worries 2021 may be even worse.
From January to June in 2020, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department reported 42 shooting victims, 10 died as a result. In the same time frame of this year, they’ve had 68 shooting victims, 18 of which died.
One of those victims was 7-year-old Knowledge Sims. He died in April of last year after a gunman fired shots into a home on Tarragon Drive in Columbia.
Knowledge's family, devastated from the loss, spoke to News19 the next day:
"Nobody deserves that and that person still being out here walking around among us that's scary. If you can shoot into a house that is full of women and children, you have no heart and should be behind bars," his aunt Jasmine Sanders said on May 1, 2020.
In Lexington County, a similar tragedy happened a year later.
In June 2021, 11-year-old Tashya Jay was with her mom visiting friends when shots were fired outside a home several doors down from her location.
Tashya was killed by a stray bullet. Her mother, Shandreka, told News19 she was a bright light that’s dearly missed.
"She was the life of the party," Shandreka said the day after her daughter was killed. "She always made you smile, made somebody laugh. She was always laughing."
Lexington County had 11 shooting incidents from January to June in 2020 with one death. This year, there were 16 shooting incidents resulting in four deaths during that same time frame.
Chief Smith said police need help from the community to stop the crimes:
“It starts with conflict resolution, working things out, talking to each other. You don’t have to resort to that level of violence because you’ve been disrespected.”
The cause of this surge in violence, Criminology Professor Robert Brame explained, is still being determined.
“We’re not sure what effects the pandemic might have had," the University of South Carolina professor said. "There are a lot of economic effects of the pandemic, lots of social effects of the pandemic.”
Brame said violence and murder have been rising nationwide. Whether the pandemic played a role is something criminologists are looking into.
“It will be important to watch and see whether patterns go back to where they were before the pandemic, or whether this is a more sustained increase,” said Brame.
Police say education is key for helping kids and young adults understand the dangers of guns. They're also urging gun owners to keep their fire arms in secured locations.