COLUMBIA — Police increased efforts Friday to learn more about last weekend’s shooting of a college student in Five Points and curb night-time violence in the popular college entertainment hub.
Columbia police want to question three men seen arguing with the man arrested in connection with the shooting, and state law enforcement officials agreed to help patrol the busy bar-heavy district on weekends.
Next week, University of South Carolina students will get to show their support for the 18-year-old freshman from Greenville paralyzed by a stray bullet by attending a concert on campus.
They also will have a chance Monday to suggest how to improve security in Five Points, after merchants on Friday rejected two safety recommendations from USC’s president: mandatory 2 a.m., bar closings and restricting the area to pedestrians only on weekend nights.
“Neither addresses the real issue in Five Points – gang violence,” the Five Points Association said in a statement released Friday afternoon. “The FPA has been seeking help with the growing gang problem for a number of years, installing over 200 security cameras and employing private security.”
The parents of shooting victim Martha Childress plan to make a statement on Monday in Five Points, family adviser Joe McCulloch said.
They have not spoken since their daughter was shot while waiting for a taxi early Sunday morning at the fountain on Harden Street in the latest act of violence in Five Points.
Heading to rehab
Childress, a Greenville native, remains hospitalized, paralyzed from the waist down, in Palmetto Health Richland.
Childress suffered more pain Friday, especially with a newly discovered cracked rib, her uncle Jim Carpenter said. She had been able to sit up in recent days.
“On the brighter side, I’m happy to report that the injuries to her vital organs are continuing to heal,” he said. “Let me say again, the family really appreciates the way you all have rallied around Martha and our family with your love and prayers.”
Childress is scheduled to travel early next week to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in spinal cord-injury rehabilitation, Carpenter said.
She hopes to return to USC for classes in January.
“She’s upset about missing school now,” Carpenter told The State newspaper.
While Childress recovers, Columbia police have asked for help in keeping peace in Five Points on weekend nights.
Since classes started at USC in fall 2012, Five Points has been the scene of at least two stabbings and four incidents of shots fired. A group of female USC students was robbed at gunpoint in April.
An unspecified number of agents from the State Law Enforcement Division will start patrolling the Five Points area, police spokesman Jennifer Timmons said Friday. Timmons said the arrangement will continue “for as long as needed.”
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department agreed to assist Columbia police once it receives a plan for using deputies in Five Points.
Childress was not the intended target when a shot was fired while a group of men argued near the fountain early Sunday morning, authorities said.
Police arrested Michael Juan Smith at the scene in connection with the shooting.
Smith had avoided long sentences in Richland County courtrooms on two burglary charges in recent years and was released on parole in February after serving 10 months of a two-year sentence for a probation violation, authorities said.
Now, police want to interview three men seen arguing with Smith on the night of the shooting.
Interim police chief Ruben Santiago called the men “persons of interest” who might have witnessed the crime. Police released security camera photos of the men.
Anyone with information is asked to call Crimestoppers at (888) 274-6372; text to 274637 and mark the beginning of the message with “tipsc;” or visit midlandscrimestoppers.com.
USC president Harris Pastides earlier this week said he was so fed up with ongoing crime in Five Points that he considered asking students to boycott the popular night-time gathering spot.
Instead, he said Five Points is not safe after midnight and issued a list of recommendations that includes more police officers and increased lighting in addition to earlier bar closings and closing the area to car traffic on weekend nights.
Pastides said he was following the wishes of the Childress family, who want Five Points to become safer after their daughter was shot.
They suggested the student forum on safety in Five Points that starts at 4 p.m., Monday on the patio of the school’s Russell House student union.
A community forum held by Columbia city officials on Wednesday did not draw many students, who were scheduled to start fall break the next day. They return to class on Monday.
Right after the student forum Monday, students will get a chance to share their concerns with the three Columbia mayoral candidates.
USC’s student government is sponsoring a candidates forum at 6 p.m., in the library, next door to the Russell House.
On Thursday night, a concert by the band Seventy Six and Sunny is scheduled from 10 p.m.-2 a.m., on the fields near the Strom Thurmond Wellness and Fitness Center to show support for Childress, USC student government president Chase Mizzell said. Students held a vigil for Childress on the fields on Monday.
Pastides had suggested this week holding more activities on campus as alternatives to going to Five Points. Student groups might consider putting on more concerts if attendance is strong Thursday, Mizzell said.
Staff writers Chris Winston and Cassie Cope contributed.