Hilton Head continues work to curb violence 1 year after 8-year-old's murder

rlurye@islandpacket.comSeptember 27, 2013 

An ad-hoc group and calls for enhanced law enforcement technology that sprang up after an 8-year-old Hilton Head Island boy was shot and killed in September 2012 have quieted some.

But the memory of Khalil Singleton continues to spur community action a year after he was caught in the crossfire of a neighborhood feud.

"By (Khalil) being so young and the way it happened, him being just purely innocent and the timing of his death, I think that it reached the hearts of the people," said Ben Williams, pastor of Mount Calvary Baptist Church on the island.

The Hilton Head Island Community Action Committee, for example, grew out of the tragedy as an attempt to get more children involved in Hilton Head Island Boys & Girls Club and Island Recreation Association programs.

Town Councilman Marc Grant, who helped form the group, said he is working with several local churches, including the First African Baptist Church and Central Oak Grove Baptist Church, to provide bus service that takes children home or to more convenient pickup locations from after-school care. That service would also include homework help for more children who are unsupervised after school while their parents work, Grant said.

"Now we're going about putting some surveys out and advertising to see who really needs it," Grant said. "Then we can get going."

The councilman also hopes to apply for community-development grants, funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to install lights and pave streets in neighborhoods like the one off Marshland Road, where Singleton was killed while playing in his grandmother's yard.

"I figure we can do those simple things that might reduce some crime," Grant said. "I know we can't eliminate everything, but we can come up with ways to solve some problems before they get started."

The community has made other significant strides, Williams said.

Shaken by Singleton's death, more people are cooperating with law enforcement and calling to report suspicious behavior, Williams said. "It seems like they have been more willing to share information on certain incidents and things that have taken place."

Finding few fail-safe ways to prevent similar violent crimes, the town made a push to improve communication, according to Mayor Drew Laughlin.

"You can try to make things as safe as you can, but I think it's unrealistic to think you can absolutely prevent those things," Laughlin said. "And I frankly think what was being done prior to that was pretty good."

Other proposals, however, have been temporarily shelved, such as Sheriff P.J. Tanner's suggestion in 2012 that the town purchase a fixed license-plate reader for about $100,000 to aid in locating missing and wanted people and stolen vehicles.

In 2014, he plans to reintroduce a proposal to create a five-person, special-enforcement unit, which would police special events and patrol high-crime areas. He suggested that team to Town Council last year as it was completing its budget. Council members decided it was too late in the budget process to find the $737,000 that Tanner said such a unit would cost, but that it would continue discussions later.

The unit could initially launch with three members, according to Tanner. For now, resources are limited because the office hasn't hired any staff despite the island's population growth, he said.

"That's where you look at this equation and say, 'We need to catch up; we're falling behind,' " Tanner said. "Five people would go a long way in being able to be proactive in certain communities."

The suspects

The three men charged with murder in Khalil Singleton's death -- Tyrone Robinson, Aaron Scott Young Jr. and Aaron Scott Young Sr. -- are being held for prosecution in the Beaufort County Detention Center, according to the jail log. No trial date has been set, but a trial could begin as soon as early 2014, according to the 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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