South Carolina

Drugs, guns and gang signs: How a North Carolina turf war led to Myrtle Beach’s June mass shooting

Side-by-side old and new water towers in Mount Gilead, N.C., on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. The small town in southern-central North Carolina is the home of three of the five people facing attempted murder charges in the Ocean Boulevard shooting. Mount Gilead is located near the Town Creek Indian Mound in Montgomery County, which is mostly the Uwharrie National Forest.
Side-by-side old and new water towers in Mount Gilead, N.C., on Tuesday, July 18, 2017. The small town in southern-central North Carolina is the home of three of the five people facing attempted murder charges in the Ocean Boulevard shooting. Mount Gilead is located near the Town Creek Indian Mound in Montgomery County, which is mostly the Uwharrie National Forest.

Tammy Dunn was vacationing on the Grand Strand on June 18 when a mass shooting erupted on Ocean Boulevard. She didn’t know it then, but the shooting that rocked Myrtle Beach was about to shake her hometown, too.

“When they called and told me they were from Mount Gilead, I said, ‘Oh, good God,’ ” said Dunn, who serves as president of the North Carolina Press Association and publisher of the Montgomery Herald.

Seven people were injured in the shooting. Six were sent to the hospital. More than 4 million people saw it all happen on a Facebook Live video that went viral.

And weeks later, Dunn learned that all five of the young men accused in the shooting hailed from Mount Gilead and Troy in her home territory of Montgomery County, North Carolina.

Seventeen-year-old Derias J’Shawn Little was named as the shooter.

Six minutes after the shooting, he was detained and transported to a local hospital where he was treated for injuries sustained when a security guard returned fire. Little was kept under guard at the hospital for three weeks until he faced a bond hearing and was jailed at J. Reuben Long Detention Center.

“He’s had multiple interactions with law enforcement … (but) he’s not been a suspect for us in any violent crimes to this point,” said Jason Hensley, assistant chief of the Mount Gilead Police Department. “I was shocked when I found out that (Little) was their primary suspect. … We know him … but he’s a young kid. We haven’t known him that long.”

Little has been in and out of jail since 16 when he was first arrested for stealing two pit bull puppies. But most of his charges have stemmed from property crimes. He was never accused of firing a weapon until June 18.

Police say Little worked “in concert” with 19-year-olds Tyron Elijah Daquan Steele and Raekwon Tariq Graham and 18-year-olds Jarvez Datwan Graham and Keshawn Datavis Steele to ambush a Stanly County, North Carolina, man.

Dunn reported that the feud between the groups started at least two years ago when a Mount Gilead man was killed in a 2015 shooting in Albemarle, the county seat of Stanly County.

The man convicted in that killing, 18-year-old Jimmy Jaquavis Parker, is incarcerated in the Foothills Correctional Institution, a minimum security prison in Morganton, North Carolina.

Parker was 16 at the time of the shooting. His projected release date is Dec. 13, 2019, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

But aside from ongoing “unpleasantries” between people from both areas, Hensley said, he didn’t think Parker and the primary victim in the Myrtle Beach shooting were related.

“There’s a contingent of young gentlemen in Mount Gilead and there’s a contingent of young people in Albemarle and neither one of them get along with each other,” he said.

Police say there is a known chapter of the United Blood Nation (the East Coast Bloods gang) in Albemarle. Suspects in the Ocean Boulevard shooting are considered to be a part of the Money Chasin Gang.

“I can say that we have had problems in town with that crowd coming over, starting fights; our crowd going to Albemarle starting fights with them,” Hensley said. “There’s not like this ongoing, ‘we’re going to kill everybody’ feud. (But) there is a rivalry.”

Albemarle Police Department’s Assistant Chief Jesse Huneycutt said the shooting in 2015 erupted in a “turf battle.”

“I know there were some concerns with the school system after that about some of the ballgames and security at the ballgames and whether or not to play Stanly County in football and things like that,” Dunn said. “But, it’s sad that, you know, teenagers are involved in that.”

Bigfoot and Zagnuts

Little has been charged with seven counts of attempted murder and one count each of carjacking and possessing a weapon in a violent crime in the Ocean Boulevard shooting. He was denied bond on the attempted murder charges and remains jailed.

Little and the two Steeles, who are brothers, hail from Mount Gilead.

The small, picturesque town of a little over 1,100 people is rich in history and legends. Most of the buildings in downtown Mount Gilead are on the National Register of Historic Places, and a few miles southeast of downtown lies the oldest consistent archaeological dig site in North America. Archaeologists have been exploring the Town Creek Indian Mound State Historic Site on the banks of Little River since 1937.

The historic site — complete with a stockade, guard tower and lodges — was once home to the Pee Dee Indians and locals say the nearby forest is home to something else.

Mount Gilead rests on the foothills of the Uwharrie National Forest, allegedly home to a race of Bigfoot that crave Zagnut candy bars, according to local lore.

“They say that’s his favorite,” Karen Saunders said with a smile, working the counter at P.R. Moore Produce in Biscoe, North Carolina, Wednesday. The store is flanked by Bigfoot statues of varying sizes that a local artisan carved.

“There are many believers in Bigfoot in the area and I guess if he wants to hide here, I guess there’s somewhere for him to hide,” Hensley said, with a chuckle.

But there was no hiding for the other young men linked to the Ocean Boulevard shooting.

Raekwon Graham and Jarvez Graham, who are cousins, and Tyron Elijah Daquan Steele turned themselves in within weeks of Keshawn Steele’s fugitive arrest in the case in Mount Gilead.

Hensley said he wasn’t as surprised to see the names of the Steeles listed as suspects.

The Steele brothers have a long history with law enforcement in Montgomery County. Tyron also has faced charges of misdemeanor larceny, resisting an officer and simple possession of marijuana that were later dropped in neighboring Guilford and Randolph counties in North Carolina.

Police have not specified exactly what charges await the Steeles in Myrtle Beach.

“Detectives continue to investigate this case by evaluating evidence and conducting interviews. While we expect the charges will be similar in nature to the previous defendants, the exact charges will be released upon service of the arrest warrants,” said Lt. Joey Crosby of the Myrtle Beach Police Department.

Keshawn’s fugitive warrant states he faces six counts of attempted murder in Horry County. Tyron’s fugitive warrant cites five counts of attempted murder or aggravated assault on a non-family member with a gun.

Jarvez Graham’s warrant lists his pending charges as six counts of attempted murder. But, police say, those charges can change.

Keshawn Steele was arrested during a search of his home on June 30. Jarvez Graham turned himself into Montgomery County authorities on July 12, followed by Tyron on July 13. All three await extradition to South Carolina.

Troubled past

But, for many of them, this wasn’t their first trouble with law enforcement.

Jarvez Graham was issued a criminal summons to appear in court, charging him with being a minor in possession of a firearm and carrying a concealed weapon without a permit in April 2016. In Randolph County, N.C., he faces charges of driving without a license, carrying around drug paraphernalia and possessing an open container of alcohol.

Jarvez Graham and Keshawn Steele came to Myrtle Beach during a time commonly known as “senior week” after graduating June 9 from West Montgomery High School.

Keshawn pleaded with the board of education in his county to walk across the stage for graduation, admitting he “had made mistakes” that led to his dismissal, but he had completed his credits and was accepted into college, the Montgomery Herald reported last week.

It is unknown if he was given that chance.

Keshawn is accused in warrants of delivering Xanax, a prescription drug used to treat anxiety, to two teen boys on Jan. 24. He was charged with two counts of selling/delivering Xanax and simple possession of a controlled substance after officers say they found three Xanax pills in his possession. He is still facing those charges in Montgomery County.

Tyron is accused of shooting a high-powered rifle into a Troy, N.C., home occupied by two men, a woman and a 7-year-old boy on April 7, according to an indictment. Later that night, the Steele family’s home also reportedly was riddled with seven bullet holes by a suspect named in a police report as Roshun Dumas, a family member of the victims listed in Tyron’s indictment.

(Although Dumas was listed as a suspect in the report, he is not facing any charges in the case.)

Keshawn and Tyron were both charged with fighting, communicating threats and disorderly conduct after a street brawl on June 8, 2015, according to a police report. Then, in August of that year, Tyron was accused of possessing a cellphone stolen from a locker room at West Montgomery High School, where he was a student, according to a separate incident report. That charge later was dismissed.

Most recently, Tyron and Keshawn have each been charged with trafficking heroin, possession with intent to distribute Oxycodone and maintaining a dwelling for controlled substances in Montgomery County, according to court records.

The last three charges were filed after officers served a search warrant at the Steeles’ home, where they arrested Keshawn on the fugitive warrant from South Carolina and seized up to 14 grams of opiates, 70 dosage units of Oxycodone, marijuana, money and a Glock firearm on June 30, according to police reports.

Drugs were found in a Spider-Man lunch box and a small plastic pill bottle, an arrest warrant stated. Keshawn also faces possession charges for marijuana and drug paraphernalia from the bust.

Hearing the police were looking for him, too, his brother, Tyron, turned himself in to authorities 13 days later.

More videos come to light

The viral Facebook Live video that captured the shooting sent city leaders into crisis mode to salvage Myrtle Beach’s tourist-friendly reputation that pumps lifeblood into its economy.

But that wasn’t the only video to surface in the investigation of the shooting.

Mount Gilead Police say Keshawn is an aspiring rap star, who raps under the aliases of Ke Sosa and Cali. Music videos posted online show the Steele brothers, Little and others arrested in the Ocean Boulevard shooting fanning out cash, waving guns and rapping about drugs and the “MCG.”

“According to all of their social media pages and things like that, they all reference MCG. … That is known as the Money Chasin Gang,” Hensley said. “If you drive by, you will see them throwing the same gang signs up to each other. If you ask each one of them, are you in a gang, they will adamantly deny it. ‘No, we’re not in a gang. We’re not in a gang, at all. That’s illegal.’ … But all the signs are there that there is a gang.”

Hensley estimated the gang might have 15 members.

“But thanks to the Myrtle Beach Police Department, we’ve cut that in half,” Hensley said.

Another young man pictured with the MCG crew online and in Keshawn’s music videos was arrested in Myrtle Beach the day after the shooting.

Detavius Quatae Bruton, 19, of Mount Gilead, was charged with the unlawful possession of a pistol on June 19. He bonded out of the J. Reuben Long Detention Center later that night, cursing MBPD on his Facebook page the next day.

In one of the rap videos, “they have what appears to be drugs, they have what appears to be real guns, they have what appears to be a lot of cash,” Hensley said. “Almost every suspect that Myrtle Beach has is in that video.”

The Mount Gilead Police Department and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office assisted MBPD in identifying and locating suspects captured in a plethora of photos and videos in their case.

Raekwon vs. Raequawn

In North Carolina, Bruton also faces charges of marijuana possession with intent to distribute and maintaining a vehicle or dwelling for controlled substances stemming from an arrest earlier this year.

But there is one suspect in the Myrtle Beach shooting case who appears to be mostly devoid of past criminal baggage.

Raekwon Tariq Graham, of Troy, North Carolina, was arrested in Stanly County on April 14, 2016 and charged with a misdemeanor injury to personal property. The charge was dismissed less than a month later.

Aside from his charges in the Myrtle Beach case, Raekwon Graham has not faced any other criminal counts in the Carolinas. And friends of his family say that’s because Raekwon is a good kid who was in the wrong place with the wrong crowd at the wrong time on June 18.

Raekwon spent his 19th birthday in the J. Reuben Long Detention Center on Thursday, after he was denied bond in a second bond hearing Tuesday.

He originally was denied bond on July 14, when the judge deemed him a flight risk, citing the criminal history of another man, with the same name, born 10 days after Raekwon, but in South Carolina.

That man, named Raequawn Jamal Graham, has been detained at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Richland County since March 9, 2016.

Raequawn’s criminal history includes charges of first-degree burglary, first-degree assault with intent to commit criminal sexual conduct, first-degree assault and battery and malicious injury to property. The charges were mistakenly applied to the history of Raekwon Tariq Graham and the judge ordered a new bond hearing after the error came to light.

In Tuesday’s hearing, Raekwon asked the judge for leniency, telling the court he turned himself into authorities.

“I just want to go back and attend school, have a chance to finish the school that I started,” Raekwon said.

Raekwon Graham graduated from West Montgomery High School in 2016, but his academics were not good enough to help him get into college.

He tried to change that, enrolling in the Bridge and Beyond program at Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina. He began his studies there last month.

The six-week residential summer program helps students, who do not meet college admission standards, become college-ready. His studies there were cut short after he learned he was a suspect in Myrtle Beach and returned to the Grand Strand to face his charges.

Family members of the Grahams and Steeles declined to comment with the shooting case pending. Little’s family could not be reached.

Emily Weaver: 843-444-1722, @TSNEmily