Rash of shootings plagues north county

Authorities are looking for answers as bullets continue to fly in northern Beaufort County and victims seek revenge.

On Sunday morning, a sailor was shot dead on Lady’s Island. Later that night, shots rang out at a house party in Burton, injuring a 19-year-old St. Helena Island man.

Since July 5, authorities have responded to seven shootings — one of them fatal — in Burton, Sheldon, Beaufort and on Lady’s Island, including three in the last week.

With many of the triggermen still at large or unidentified, investigators are having difficulty getting information on potential suspects because victims are insisting on taking matters into their own hands, said Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner.

“We’ve had some victims that have been extremely uncooperative,” he said. “They say, ‘We’re not going to tell you who shot us; we’re going to handle it.’ That’s a thug mentality, and it will not be tolerated. Victims must cooperate.”

Tanner said he’s considering charging those unwilling to cooperate with obstruction of justice or the common law equivalent, misprision of a felony, which makes it illegal to withhold firsthand knowledge about the commission of a felony.

“It may sound kind of drastic that we’re considering throwing victims in jail, but if that’s what it takes, then that’s what it takes,” he said. “These shootings must stop.”

The most recent wave of area gun violence turned deadly Sunday morning when authorities said a 23-year-old St. Helena man shot a Beaufort sailor outside the Masonic Lodge on Lady’s Island.

The Sheriff’s Office issued an arrest warrant Monday for Melvin Holmes Jr. of Queens Road on St. Helena, charging the 23-year-old with murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.

Authorities said Holmes shot and killed 22-year-old Hospitalman Mario Morgan, a Montgomery, Ala., native stationed at Naval Hospital Beaufort. Witnesses told deputies Holmes shot Morgan during an argument outside the club on Chowan Creek Bluff.

Holmes has been arrested 12 times since 2002 for a number of violent offenses, including two separate arrests for aggravated assault, criminal sexual conduct with a minor and pointing a firearm, authorities said. Holmes should be considered armed and dangerous.

Morgan’s death was the sixth of seven reported shootings in northern Beaufort County since July 5 and the third in the last week.

The seventh came late Sunday night at a house party on Eastern Road in Burton, according to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office.

Witnesses told deputies that an unknown gunman fired shots into the air and into a crowd of partygoers during a fight just after midnight, injuring a 19-year-old St. Helena man as he attempted to leave.

Deputies arrested 22-year-old Anthony Dekwaun Lawton of Burton and charged him with unlawful carrying of a firearm. He is being held at the Beaufort County Detention Center on a $10,000 bond.

The shootings, Tanner said, appear motivated by a number of different factors that include domestic disputes, drugs, territory and possibly gangs.