Andrew Dys

July 18, 2014

Suspect faces murder charge in fatal Chester shooting

Chester police arrested a 17-year-old Chester man Friday night in connection with the shooting death of a 16-year-old two days earlier.

Chester police arrested a Chester teenager Friday night in connection with the shooting death of a 16-year-old two days earlier.

Robert Isaiah Graham, 17, is charged with murder and possession of a weapon during a violent crime, Chester Police Chief Andre Williams said in a release. He is being held at the Chester County Detention Center, awaiting arraignment.

Even with the arrest, all that remained Friday of the promise of 16-year-old Shyheim Kennedy’s future in Chester – a small city of about 5,500 people beset by poverty and, too often, hopelessness – was a cross on the side of the road.

“That was my cousin, and someone shot him down like a dog in the street,” said a woman who stopped in the middle of the road, holding up traffic.

She didn’t care.

“That’s all there is left of his life. Shot in the street and left there to die.”

The cross marks the spot on S.C. 9, also named Pinckney Street, a busy street just west of downtown where Kennedy was shot in the chest late Wednesday. The spot where so many cars drove by Wednesday night as Kennedy lay in the street until a stranger stopped and called 911.

The cross has a picture of Kennedy on it, and a sympathy card placed by a friend. It is about 100 yards from where his mother lives. Kennedy was the length of a football field from his mother’s home – Kennedy loved football – when he was gunned down in the city his mother sent him away from.

“I sent my son away from here because I didn’t want him hanging with the wrong crowd,” said Sylvia Kennedy, Shyheim’s mother. “He was a follower, not a leader. But he wasn’t in any gang. He was just a teenager. I told he needed to be a leader, and he couldn’t be that here. Too much going on around here.”

So Shyheim last year moved to Raeford, N.C., to live with his father. He got back into wrestling and football, and his grades were improving, family members said. Shyheim was in Chester to spend the summer with his mother, siblings and grandparents – family.

And on his way home after a walk to the corner store at Pinckney and Center streets, he was shot. He was found just minutes before his mother had finished working at Bojangles’ restaurant on the other side of Chester.

Chester has struggled with some of the highest unemployment in South Carolina during recent years, after textile mills that employed thousands closed. The average annual income in Chester is just $14,000. The average household income is just over $23,000 – about half of the average for South Carolina, which is one of the poorest states in America.

A full 37 percent of people in Chester live in poverty. For some the only chance is to leave.

“I wanted my son to have a chance, and he wasn’t going to get it here,” said Sylvia Kennedy. “Now he’s dead.”

Police now have a suspect who has been arrested and charged, but they have not released any details about the shooting. Detectives from both the Chester Police Department and the Chester County Sheriff’s Office are working the case, said Keisha Tobias, spokeswoman for the police department. Tobias declined to give specifics or any possible motive for the shooting.

At Sylvia Kennedy’s home Friday, the artwork of a child hangs on the wall and the trophies for football and wrestling are on the bookshelf. Two detectives came by to check on her, but neither offered any new details on the investigation.

Family members are concerned that Shyheim might have been the victim of mistaken identity in a dispute between rivals in Chester.

Shyheim was just a teenaged boy on his way home from a store errand when he was shot sometime after 9:30 p.m. In the summer, 9:30 is not late. Darkness had just fallen on Chester, and the store is just two blocks from where Kennedy’s mother lives, said Jessie Graham, Shyheim’s grandmother.

“No child – no person – deserves what happened here,” Graham said. “My grandson had a future, but that future is gone.”

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