Was fatal stabbing of island teen a case of mistaken identity?

April 11, 2008 

  • During business hours, call Investigator Chuck Runnion at 843-842-4111, ext. 243. After hours, contact the Beaufort County Dispatch Center at 843-524-2777 and ask for the on-duty investigator.

The three masked men who leapt from a Mercedes and stabbed Harry Fripp III to death Wednesday may have mistaken him for someone else, according to those who knew him.

Fripp was attacked at about 7:30 p.m. by the men who chased him down and assaulted him as groups of young children played nearby.

The former Hilton Head Island High School student was stabbed a dozen times at Sandalwood Terrace, the north-island apartment complex where he lived, according to authorities and eyewitness accounts.

Fripp, 19, died early Thursday at Hilton Head Hospital.

Friends, family and neighbors packed the hospital's waiting room late Wednesday to pray he would survive.

Many of those same neighbors and friends have suggested that Fripp -- described as a quiet, well-mannered teenager with military aspirations -- was mistakenly targeted, perhaps because of his resemblance to another family member.

"It was truly vicious and no one knows why it happened to him -- besides maybe mistaken identity," said Tim Singleton, who coached Fripp, a football player during his junior and senior year at the high school. "He was a very clean-cut, malleable kid. I never saw him get angry or be disrespectful to anyone. It was a total shock that he had this done to him."

One of Fripp's neighbors, Gloria Moss, remembered him as someone the neighborhood's young children looked up to. The death of the young man who vacuumed her car and raked her yard -- just to help out -- left her numb.

"He was a good kid," she said. "He never got into nothing. ... I just don't know what happened. They (neighborhood residents) said it was not meant for him."

Another of Fripp's neighbors, 28-year-old Shane Houston, rushed to his friend's side when he learned of the attack. He held him closely until medics arrived.

"He was telling me he knew who did it ..., but I couldn't get the names out of him," Houston said. "I guess he didn't have the breath."

He misses the man he played basketball with, the teenager who loved women. "That's all he used to talk about," Houston said.

Fripp did manage to reveal the identify of his attackers, possibly to family members, before he died, Houston said.

On Thursday evening, police were investigating what they called several strong leads and had already been tipped to the names of some possible suspects, said Capt. Toby McSwain of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.

Officers are working with law enforcement agencies in the Savannah metropolitan area.

Detectives are also asking for the community's help. They're looking for a white Mercedes, described as being a fusion of a sedan and SUV, with tinted windows and Georgia plates. The vehicle's occupants were three black males.

The weapon has not been recovered, McSwain said.

'A WELL-MANNERED KID'

The homicide was Hilton Head's first since January 2006. The fact that the attack was witnessed by so many sent island schools into shock, and left some parents struggling to comfort their children.

Fripp was popular at his high school.

Investigators, social workers and grief counselors spent Thursday at Hilton Head High and Hilton Head Island Middle School. A letter explaining the situation was sent home with the students.

Dozens of them participated in the counseling sessions, according to assistant superintendent John Williams.

"There's no way they're going to be able to concentrate on academics with something like this on their minds," said high school principal Amanda O'Nan. "We're trying to help them in any way we can."

Fripp was a member of the class of 2007, although he failed a class and didn't graduate. He had discussed going back to school in hopes of joining the Army or Navy.

"He kind of got lost in the shuffle, unfortunately," said Singleton, his coach.

To his elders, he was a "Yes, sir. No sir," kind of young man, said athletic director and basketball coach Greg Elliott, who briefly coached Fripp during his junior year.

The teen was known as the "Fripp Factor."

"He was a quiet, well-mannered kid," said Elliott. "He had a real sneaky sense of humor.

"He was one of those guys who didn't do anything to aggravate anyone."

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