‘It’s a crisis’ Richland sheriff says after Dreher students charged in shooting teen

Chris Trainor

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott announced the arrest of two teenagers Wednesday in the shooting death of an A.C. Flora High School student.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department arrested D’Mari Flannigan and Javienn Coates in the May 27 shooting of John Carlisle Kelly on the 1200 block of Walcott Street. That’s about two miles from Willams-Brice Stadium between Bluff and Shop roads.

“I stand up here and I just shake my head and I say ‘why,’” Lott said at a news conference at the department’s headquarters on Two Notch Road.

The shooting was originally reported to be on Frasier Street because that’s where Kelly was found. But Lott said that the suspects moved the body to that location after the shooting.

Deputies charged Flannigan and Coates with murder as adults. Both are 17 years old and attended Dreher High School, Lott said.

Kelly, 18, played played ultimate Frisbee, ran cross country and played soccer at Flora.

On May 27, deputies were called to investigate a suspicious car on the 1000 block of Frasier Street, which they discovered had several bullet holes in the driver’s side door. Kelly was in the driver’s seat and was pronounced dead on the scene, according to investigators.

Kelly was shot on Walcott Street about a block away from Frasier Street, Lott said. Flannigan and Coates had met with Kelly for “illegal activity,” Lott said, but he wouldn’t elaborate on the activity. The 17-year-olds both shot Kelly, and then one of them sat on top of him and drove the car to Fraiser Street, according to Lott.

Investigators found a cell phone in the car belonging to one of the shooters and that made their investigation easy, Lott said.

“These young people think they’re gangsters and killers then they do something stupid like that,” he said.

Deputies arrested Flannigan on May 29 and Coates the next day.

The day after the shooting, A.C. Flora’s principal asked people to “please keep the Kelly family in your thoughts and prayers.”

The school’s soccer coach said, “We are all very saddened and devastated.”

A gun violence ‘crisis’

Lott was clearly exasperated and beyond frustrated with having to hold another news conference about teenagers killed and arrested in a shooting.

“It’s a crisis,” he said.

Richland County has had 54 people shot from January to June 2 this year, Lott said. That’s compared to 30 people shot in the same time period last year. This year, 14 people have been killed in shootings compared to 12 from January to early June last year.

Since February, at least 35 shootings have hurt or killed people in Columbia and Richland County. That doesn’t include shootings in which no one was physically injured. Most of the shootings involve teenagers or young adults as either victims or shooters. The surge in gun violence led Lott, Columbia police and elected leaders to call on communities to become more in involved in stopping the hail of bullets.

The sheriff’s department is doing its part to help reduce gun violence with diversionary programs, taking guns off the streets and arresting trigger-pullers, Lott said. But none of that is going to solve gun violence.

“This is not a law enforcement problem,” he said. “It’s a community problem.”

That Flannigan and Coates killed Kelly — then one of them sat on top of him in the driver seat of the car to move it — showed how “cold” the two were, Lott said. Their actions also demonstrated the “total disregard for human life” that the sheriff talks about at nearly every news conference about teenage shootings.

Churches, schools, elected officials and community leaders have to become more involved with creating and enacting solutions to gun violence and changing the mentality of young people to end that disregard for human life, Lott said. Those institutions and people have to stop talking about solutions and start taking action.

“We have to change minds on the streets,” Lott said. “Let’s work together to solve this. If not, I’m going to be standing up here again.”