With thunder cracking and trees swaying, Christopher Bickel looked out the second story window of a record shop in Columbia’s Five Points. The storm had gotten crazy, he said.
Only seconds later, a chaotic chase that involved at least four men ensued on the street below.
Bickel heard a couple pops, he said. He thought an electrical transformer was blowing. He looked back out the window.
Two men were chasing someone, hands wrapped around guns, trigger fingers fluttering, sending a hail of bullets toward parked vehicles, a restaurant where people were working and a tattoo shop where a different kind of gun was leaving a different kind of mark.
The shooting happened at about 4 p.m. Tuesday. Police said one person was injured but is expected to recover. The shooting has left an area with a perception issue reeling with another blow.
Bickel heard about 20 shots. He couldn’t see the person the two triggermen were targeting. Thinking fast, Bickel whipped out his phone and captured a video of the gunmen. In it, they’re running away, along a retaining wall in front of Andy’s Deli. They jump off the wall into a parking lot and disappear into the obscurity of everyday Five Points.
A visit to Five Points
Rachel Ponder was walking on a Five Points sidewalk, heading back to the car her grandmother had let her borrow during Ponder’s visit to Columbia.
Ponder had come from Long Beach, California, with her wife to visit family in Columbia. A cousin she was hanging out with had said they could go to Five Points but he said it with some hesitancy.
He told them, “Five Points could be...” He didn’t use any word to end the sentence, simply murmured a noise to express the perceived sketchiness of the district.
They had left Papa Jazz Record Shoppe about an hour before and put a few records in the backseat of the car. They were thinking about going to play pinball at a bar on Saluda Street. When they turned onto Greene Street, shots erupted.
They ran around the corner toward CJ’s, a bar, and Starbucks, telling people that someone was shooting and to get inside.
The bullets stopped within seconds. When the street sounded clear, Ponder, her wife, and cousin crept back to Greene Street to their car. The rear driver-side door had three bullet holes in it. One of the bullets pierced the door, flew through the backseat and hit the other door, leaving an inch long protrusion on the outside metal like someone had hit the inside of the door with a chisel.
Ponder and her relatives said they had to laugh and be thankful amid the utter shock. They wondered what would have happened if they had gotten to the car a minute earlier. The cousin joked that the slug may have gone through the hole in one of the records they just bought.
A red shoe
As the rain came down, Del Priore, a tattoo artist and shop owner, smoked a cigarette with another artist under the awning of a strip of shops that run perpendicular to Greene Street.
They dropped their cigarettes when they heard two shots and saw two men running across Greene. They didn’t see who the two men were shooting at, ran back into the tattoo shop and got all their customers into a back room. The two shooters ran through the parking lot of Andy’s Deli, jumped a fence into another parking lot and disappeared, Priore said.
When the gunmen were gone, Priore went out to make sure no one was hurt. An unsettling silence blanketed the street. It was empty, he said, and he worried that no one was helping anyone who was shot and bleeding out on the ground.
He saw Bickel walk out the record store. They saw a stranger near a car that had bullet holes in it. Priore thought the stranger was helping a wounded person. When Bickel and Priore got closer, the stranger was picking up a red shoe. The shoe belonged to his friend who was shot, the stranger said. The friend had run away, wounded. A patch of blood, about the size of a hand, mixed with the rain on the curb in front of the car.
The stranger with the shoe had trouble talking and walked away behind a retaining wall that hides a couple of lower level shops from the street. The stranger dropped a gun, Bickel said, but quickly picked it back up. The stranger shuffled into the ground level entrance for some apartments that overlook the 2000 block of Greene Street.
Walking away from a crime scene
Columbia Police Department officers arrived shortly after the shooting. They blocked off the area with yellow crime scene tape and a dozen police cars with flashing blue lights.
Shooting investigations are well trodden grounds for the police department, and crime in Five Points isn’t new territory either. But a shooting just after 4 p.m. — as the daytime atmosphere sheds it shoppers and the happy hour crowd drifts in — that is different.
The shooting has all the characteristics of a vendetta or grudge being violently settled. Maybe it was a robbery gone wrong. Early indications are that the shooting followed an argument but that hasn’t been confirmed, according to a police spokesperson.
Although Five Points has had some notable shootings in the last decade, gun violence is not typically a problem for the popular entertainment district — not like in other areas of Columbia. But gun violence is an undeniable problem in Columbia and Richland County. Columbia has had double the national average of violent crimes, and the city struggles with stolen and illegally owned guns, Mayor Steve Benjamin has said in the past.
Five Points has dealt with some publicized crime in the last two months. Late last month, a man sexually assaulted a women in her apartment just above the scene of the shooting, according to police. In March, about a block away or less on Harden Street, a mob assaulted a 24-year-old man, fracturing his skull and putting him into physical rehabilitation.
Steve Cook, president of the Five Points Association, recently told The State that the area has to not only be safe but to feel safe.
As the scene cleared on Greene Street Tuesday evening, a police investigator wrote in a pad, taking statements from witnesses like Bickel and Ponder. Onlookers approached the block, asking each other what happened. They drifted off to the shops and restaurants and bars.
As police took control and shock set in, dampening the place more than the rain, a group of college aged women all dressed in neon colors and leg warmers and side ponytails for a 1980s themed bar crawl left a drinking spot on the block. They walked to another bar away from a crime scene.