DILLON COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) – Cierra Fletcher knew that violence in Dillon County was high. Two years ago, she lost her nephew to it.
Then, two months ago, it hit home again when her 15-year-old son, Janare, was shot and killed.
“I am so hurt knowing that he’s not going to be there,” she said. “I can’t see him graduate. I can’t see him go to prom. I can’t see him live out his life.”
Within the last two years, deaths like Janare’s have become common in the county of about 28,000 people, to the point that in 2020, one in 25 deaths was classified as homicide.
That year, 1% of deaths statewide were murders, a number that has stayed fairly consistent since 1999, according to data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
That same year, 4.4% of deaths in Dillon County were murders, making up 23 of the 520 deaths.
In 2020, Dillon County’s 4.4% rate was the highest in the state. Numbers for 2021 are not yet publicly available.
The homicide data is not broken down by weapon.
More people died from homicides than chronic liver disease, Parkinson’s disease and suicide combined in Dillon County in 2020. Homicides are the eighth-most common cause of death in the area, compared to the 17th-most common cause of death in the state.
Shootings, specifically, have been high within News13’s viewing area over the last two years, according to an ongoing crime analysis. There were 10 fatal shootings in the immediate Dillon area last year, and at least nine in the area so far this year.
Dillon County’s most recent homicide was Wendy Cook, the 54-year-old principal at Stewart Heights Elementary School who was found shot to death on Sunday in a vehicle. Kyle Church, 31, who police said was inside the vehicle when Cook’s body was found, has been charged with her murder.
For the county, violence has been nonstop.
“You see that here every day,” said Dr. Amid Hamidi, the medical director of McLeod Dillon’s emergency room. “You’d be surprised by how many gunshots and shootings, and people hitting each other with a car.”
He started seeing an increase in trauma patients after the pandemic hit, which includes violence and vehicle crashes. The number of psychiatric patients has also increased.
He said those cases, on top of COVID-19, have strained the Pee Dee’s resources, especially as nurses have retired or left.
It’s not unusual for one the hospital’s doctors to see 54 patients a day in the lobby.
The hospital is in the process of being designed a Level IV Trauma Center, which means it is able to provide advanced trauma life support to patients before they’re transferred to a Level III, II or I Trauma Center. Level IV Trauma Centers are able to provide surgery, 24-hour laboratory coverage and staff available when patients come in.
But the hospital, which sees patients from four surrounding counties, makes it feel like it’s Level II.
“The amount of trauma that comes into McLeod Dillon is enough that we could get the designation,” Hamidi said.
He said the hospital has taken measures to keep staff safe, which includes partnerships with law enforcement agencies and security on the campus.
The team has also kept an eye out for each other for when the trauma cases begin impacting their mental health.
“Our work family is like a family,” he said. “If we see people being a little different or a little down, we do our best to help them out.”
When shooting patients come in, ER staff apply gauze to the wound, sew arteries and work to contain blood and infections.
“We get a lot of practice with it, and each piece of the team works like a well-oiled machine,” he said. “It’s incredible.”
It’s a race against the clock to save a life.
In one case, a woman was shot in the knee and right hand with a .22 rifle. Both bullets hit major arteries, and her right knee was blasted open. Hamidi said it was a “heroic effort” to contain the bleeding before she went into surgery and was then flown to another hospital for further care.
“Ten, 15 minutes more, and the female would have been dead,” he said.
When a teenager recently died in the emergency room, Hamidi started talking about community education programs.
“It is not always an intentional homicide,” Hamidi said. “Sometimes, it is not being aware of gun safety, and not being aware of how to use a firearm appropriately.”
He said the hospital is working with community organizations to provide education to decrease violence in the community.
Janare Fletcher would have turned 16 this month. Facing his first birthday since his death, his mother organized a Stop the Violence event to try and cut down on shootings.
“I can’t celebrate his birthday any other way but to bring awareness to it,” Fletcher said. “This needs to stop, because this is too much. It hurts too many people having to explain to teachers, his siblings, that he isn’t coming back home.”
Janare was her oldest child. After tearing his ACL playing football earlier this year, he had just gone to the doctor and physical therapy before his death. The day before, he had a job interview.
Fletcher said he was an outgoing teen who was excited about starting work and returning to the football field.
After his death, others began approaching her and telling her that Janare was a well-behaved teen.
“They said he was respectful, humble, and it just gave my heart a sense of joy and peace to know that what was instilled in him at home, he still used it outside of when he went out,” she said.
She’s more aware of gun violence now than before – and is dedicated to stopping it.
“It seems like every time I turn around, that is all I hear,” she said. “My nephew was killed two years previous. I knew it was going on a lot, but I wasn’t really listening to the news as much.”