DARLINGTON, S.C. (WBTW) — Shamika Cottingham was on her way to work  in Florence when she saw men in two cars shooting at each other in the middle of the day.

“All I could do was stop in the road and start praying,” she said. 

It’s an experience that has become all too common in South Carolina’s Pee Dee region this year — and one she’s hoping to end.

Cottingham is one of the organizers of Stop the Violence, a group aimed at reducing violent crime in the area. 

Two of Cottingham’s nephews have been involved in shootings that have ended in a death this year. After growing up in Darlington, she said that the shift is “unreal.”

“We aren’t used to that,” she said. “It’s very, very scary.”

Darlington, a city of about 5,900 people, had one murder in 2019, according to data from the FBI. That same year, there were seven murder or negligent manslaughter cases in Florence, and none in Hartsville.

As of Wednesday, there have been at least 14 shootings and at least four deaths this year due to gun violence in the Darlington area, according to a crime analysis by News13. There have been at least 30 shootings this year in the Florence area, leading to 10 deaths, and at least 17 shootings in the Hartsville area, leading to nine deaths. 

After witnessing that shooting in Florence, Cottingham questions if she should ever drive down that street again. She said the violence makes her want to move, but she knows that violence is everywhere, and that she doesn’t want to leave her community.

She formed Stop the Violence with her friend, Donna Goodson, about four months ago to try and make change.

“It is like no one is trying to come together and stop the violence, and I figured that if I started this organization, maybe I can get a lot more parents to get involved to see what is going on with their kids out here — where their kids are going in this community, who they are hanging with, why are they hanging with these thugs or these gangsters?” she said. 

The group held a back-to-school event in early August to reduce violence and donate school supplies. Cottingham is planning a similar event on Halloween in Florence that will include guest speakers. 

She’s confused about why teens are getting involved with guns, she said, because their parents haven’t. She wants adults to be aware and get more involved.

“You’ll be laying in your home, and you’ll never know that your 14-, 15-year-old has a gun in their home,” Cottingham said. “It is shocking to me.”

Goodson, who lives in Darlington, said that even one shooting has a ripple effect throughout the entire close-knit community.

A shooting earlier this year killed a close family friend.

“It is starting to get closer to home,” she said. “It is getting serious.”

Another shooting happened in her neighborhood. With a daughter a year away from graduating, Goodson wants to keep her away from getting involved or being around anyone else who is. 

“It is just scary,” she said. “You can’t go places. You can’t have your kids go places, because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

She’s calling on the community to come together and show youth that there are better ways to handle disagreements and arguments before they escalate to violence. When adults take that approach, she said, their children will follow.

For now, she’s staying cautious. Her children have to tell her where they’re at all times. She’s also banned them from going to certain areas. 

“I don’t ever want to get that phone call that one of my kids has been gunned down,” she said.