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Florence officials: Gun violence is a community problem

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FLORENCE, S.C. — Florence Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin, Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler and Florence County Sheriff’s Office Major Michael M. Nunn urged residents to form community watches and report crimes to law enforcement Monday.

After a weekend of violence, killing and loss, Ervin held a press conference at 11 a.m. Monday at the City Center. Ervin, Heidler and Nunn addressed violence as city and county government officials, clergy and community activists stood behind them in a show of support.

Four people were killed in Florence County over the weekend. A fifth Florence County resident was shot and killed Sunday morning in Myrtle Beach.

Another person was shot multiple times Sunday in Florence, and remains hospitalized.

A Florence resident was shot and killed at 4:40 p.m. Saturday in the 1100 block of Brunwood Drive after he refused to give a neighbor a ride to the store. Florence County Coroner Keith von Lutcken identified the victim as Larry Dontaye Joyner, 37. Randolph Eugene Smith has been arrested and charged with murder, possession of a weapon and grand larceny.

Another shooting happened Sunday morning in the 1000 block of Carver Street in Florence. The coroner identified the shooting victim as Willie Dixon, 32, of Florence.

A 17-year-old teenager — Dairyont’ae Thurston Shaw of Dixon Street — was discovered in a driveway at 700 Philadelphia Place at 2:30 a.m. Saturday.

Autopsies on Joyner, Dixon and Shaw will be performed at the Medical University of South Carolina at Charleston.

A fatal shooting happened on Glendale Road Sunday morning near Scranton. An 11-year-old was killed in the shooting. The identity of the child has not been released.

The Florence County Sheriff’s Office has arrested two men — Crandell Corodell Burgess, 27, of Scranton and Montarrio Leverne Graham 35, of Scranton.

According to investigators, Graham carried a firearm onto the property following a verbal dispute with Burgess. After several warnings, Graham refused to leave. Investigators allege the 11-year-old was shot when Graham opened fire on Burgess.

Burgess was charged with voluntary manslaughter and possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime. Graham is charged with stalking, trespassing/entering premises after warning to leave and possession of a firearm by a person convicted of violent crime.

At 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Florence County Sheriff’s deputies responded to a call of shots fired in the 1000 block of Carver Street in Florence. Investigators and crime scene forensic experts located spent shell casings where the shooting is alleged to have happened.

A short time later, deputies were notified of a shooting victim at an area hospital. The victim had been taken to the hospital by private vehicle. He has been receiving treatment for gunshot wounds. Additional information about the victim and his condition was unavailable.

In Myrtle Beach early Sunday morning, South Florence High School star athlete and homecoming king, Quay Dickens, was shot and killed. According to reports, Dickens was one of four people shot in the area of Mr. Joe White Avenue and Withers Alley.

Monday’s press conference was called in response to those shootings and deaths.

“I do not remember a time period where we have experienced such a loss,” Ervin said at the press conference. “Florence has been greatly touched by this and I do believe we can come together to change this. My plan of action is to get the community involved. It is not only going to take leadership from the government. It is going to take community members, families, parents, the school district. It is going to take all of us to make a difference.”

The shootings aren’t necessarily random acts of violence, Ervin said. Some involve family or neighbor disputes.

“There are some things that we may not be able to de-escalate,” Ervin said. “But I believe if we come together like we have done in the past. We can teach others how to de-escalate situations. We need to protect life and we need to teach people what to do and when to walk away. Florence needs all of us. We are one Florence.”

It will take community members working with the Florence police and Florence County Sheriff’s Office to bring violence under control and solve crimes, Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler said.

The police department, sheriff’s office and solicitor’s office have developed a witness information identification protection program to help witnesses feel secure when they come forward to report crimes or criminal activity, Heidler said.

Witnesses also can provide anonymous tips to Pee Dee Crime Stoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC.

Detectives also will protect witnesses throughout the course of investigating a crime, Heidler said.

“We are asking people to help.” Heidler said. “We understand that you are fearful of retaliation, but we have this program in place to assist you.”

Nunn said he agreed with Heidler’s comments and urged residents to form community watch organizations to help deter crime.

“When you see something, there are several methods and ways you can communicate with us what you know,” Nunn said.

He mention the Crime Stoppers program.

Nunn also said the Sheriff’s Office has a free app for iPhones and Android phones that allows residents to submit anonymous tips. Sheriff’s investigators also will protect witness identities.

“We need your help. We can’t solve these crimes without your input,” Nunn said.

Calvin Robinson, a community activist and pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, said that stress economically and personally builds up to violence.

“A lot of crimes are committed because people feel they have nowhere else to turn,” Robinson said. “Not all crime is that way, but a lot of crimes are. I believe that our community needs to reach our children before they get to the level of committing crimes. We need programs for smaller children and job training in place. These things do not cost a lot of money. It simply takes volunteers and people giving their time and talent to mentor young people. I also think there needs to be revitalization throughout the entire city of Florence and not just one area of the city. We need to spread the wealth.”

Help Florence Flourish Executive Director Chris Handley lives in the 1100 block of Brunwood Drive and heard gunshots. He also saw the shooting suspect drive off in the victim’s vehicle.

“We were standing in our front yard when we heard gunshots followed by screaming,” Handley said. “We normally hear pops like that, but the screaming at the same time made it real. A few moments later, we saw a car driving erratically and we realized that it was the shooter who was driving the victim’s car. It was devastating to think about.” He said he heard about five or six gunshots.

Handley said police, fire and emergency medical services arrived quickly to the neighborhood.

Handley said he never felt unsafe in his neighborhood before the shooting. He said his neighborhood is typically quiet and is a mixed neighborhood.

Suzanne La Rochelle, community activist, said the rise in gun violence in Florence County is a signal of desperation and hopelessness.

“I wholeheartedly believe that this is a universal symbol of desperation and hopelessness,” La Rochelle said. “When our young people don’t see a future in tomorrow and when they don’t believe they have something to live for, violence is their option. We need to do everything in our power to address poverty. Desperate people do desperate things. We also need to pay attention to the laws that are being passed and the ones that are not being passed. We need to decrease the amount of weapons in our community.”


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