A 77-year-old Hardeeville man who was shot to death in a parking lot Thursday morning had breakfast with the Hardeeville police chief the day before the shooting and is a former fire chief for the Hardeeville Fire Department.
Ernest Martin Stevens was shot to death about 9 a.m. in Argent Square, a parking lot off Ulman Street in Hardeeville, Police Chief Sam Woodward said. Woodward said Stevens was well-known in the community and was the former fire chief.
“I actually had breakfast with him yesterday morning at the men’s breakfast at church here in town,” Woodward said during a Thursday afternoon news conference. “(Stevens) is somebody we know, we are familiar with and somebody I personally know. ... It’s a sad day for Hardeeville. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
Woodward said Stevens was shot multiple times, and a motive has not yet been determined. He was treated at the scene and taken to Coastal Carolina Hospital, where he died.
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Woodward said the search for the suspect is continuing throughout the city. The suspect is is believed to be a black male between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet in height. He may have short dreadlocks; a long, black shirt; and jean shorts, police said. Woodward said police aren’t sure if the suspect is still on foot or escaped by car, but they believe he is a younger male.
“It caught us all off guard,” Woodward said of the shooting blocks from the police department. “We don’t usually have that happen at that time of the morning around here. Usually, it’s at night that we have shootings or anything like that.”
Police are reviewing surveillance footage from the area, Woodward said.
The shooting left the neighborhood shaken.
Jennifer Haney lives on Sunset Circle off Ulman and said she knew Stevens. She said she heard eight to 10 shots around 8:53 a.m.
It started with two pops, and then I heard multiple pops after that. I’m shaking. I knew those sounds when I heard them.
Nearby resident Jennifer Haney
“It started with two pops, and then I heard multiple pops after that,” she said. “I’m shaking. I knew those sounds when I heard them.”
She looked out the window and saw the victim coasting through the Argent Square parking lot in a blue Ford pickup until he ran over a divider and stopped. Woodward said Stevens was attempting to get away from his shooter when the vehicle stopped.
Haney recognized Stevens and said he was well-known in the neighborhood. Her children and his grandchildren play together, she said. She said her 9-year-old child was inside the house when the shooting started.
Allan Oliveira, Stevens’ next-door neighbor, said he was lying in his hammock outside when he heard the shots.
“We were like brothers, and he was only like five years older than me,” Oliveira said. “I’ve known him for 16 and a half years.”
Oliveira said Stevens would often move his truck to Argent Square so he could mow his lawn. He is survived by his wife, son, daughter and three grandchildren, Oliveira said.
“He was like a grandpa to everybody,” Oliveira said. “He always had a smile on his face. ... He was a wonderful man.”
In addition to the Hardeeville department, officers and the Bluffton Police Department’s tracking unit were on the scene. SLED officers also were called to the scene to assist in collecting any forensic evidence.
Ulman Street opened back up to traffic around 4:30 p.m., according to a City of Hardeeville news release.
Anyone with information can call police at 843-784-6668 or 911.