MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — The narrative is constant: Someone has been shot. Police are working to solve the case. Any witnesses are encouraged to come forward.
But witnesses are not — and it’s impacting how many homicides are being solved.
“If somebody comes forward, it makes our job a lot shorter,” said Lt. Mark Blair with the Hartsville Police Department. “Witnesses are very important for giving us a place to go.”
There have been at least 77 people killed by gun violence this year within News13’s coverage area — which includes Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Horry, Marion and Marlboro counties in South Carolina, along with Robeson and Scotland counties in North Carolina.
Of those, about 26% remain unsolved, according to a News13 analysis of the data, which includes tracking shootings and arrests. News13 also reached out to every police agency listed as having an unsolved homicide to confirm that the cases remain open. If an agency did not return the request for information, then the investigation was categorized on News13’s list as unsolved.
The data does not count suicides, although it does include murder-suicides.
Cases are considered solved if there was an arrest, a suspect died, the shooting was accidental, the person died because they were killed by police or if the case was ruled as self-defense.
Of the deaths, four were ruled as justified, suspects died in five and one was ruled as accidental.
Victims in unsolved cases include:
- Katrina Jackson, killed on Jan. 15 in Horry County
- Gerson Aleman Velasquez, killed on March 14 in Socastee area
- Ny’John Ta’Andre Galbreath, killed on March 23 in Florence area
- Randolph M. Neville, killed on March 26 in Pawley’s Island
- Jerry Stevenson, killed on April 7 in the Hartsville area
- Zyquavion Hickman, killed on April 9 in the Hartsville area
- Rahiem Jaquan Fortune, killed on May 18 in the Darlington area
- Alena Hull, killed on June 1 in Maxton, North Carolina
- Trevon Davion Wilson, killed on June 14 in Florence County
- Dwayne Patterson, killed on July 19 in the Myrtle Beach area
The names of eight homicide victims this year have yet to be identified to News13.
All but one homicide within the Hartsville Police Department’s jurisdiction has been solved this year, according to Blair, but getting witnesses to come forward remains a perpetual challenge.
Those witness statements, he said, tells police where to direct their efforts.
“In order to go all the way through the investigation, you need the first step,” he said.
But people have hesitations about speaking to police — especially if they live in the neighborhood where the shooting happened.
“A lot of people see things and then when we arrive to the scene, people have scattered, nobody wants to talk to us,” he said. “One of the big problems we have is people are afraid to speak up because they are afraid of retribution for that.”
He emphasized that witness who don’t want to speak to police at the scene can call to anonymously leave a tip, or can stop by the station later. He said that police are able to continue the investigation without revealing witness’ names to suspects.
There’s also Crime Stoppers of the Lowcountry and Crime Stoppers of the Pee Dee, which take anonymous tips and offer cash rewards for information that can lead to an arrest. Even if someone gives their name, the organizations remove it before passing the tip on to police.
Even if no one is hurt, Blair said arresting a shooting suspect gets a gunman off the street, making the entire community safer. He said violent crimes can spill over into traditionally quiet neighborhoods, and that suspects often are wanted for other crimes.
“A lot of the times, people who are involved in shootings are connected to others,” he said.
The department is utilizing a new mobile unit that helps identify guns involved in crimes in an effort to cut down on the city’s uncharacteristic surge in gun violence.
Solving the crimes, he said, is crucial.
“The families of the victims need closure,” he said. “And if it is a homicide, it helps the victim’s family to know the person who killed their loved one is in jail.”