COLUMBIA -- Columbia endured a bloody Labor Day weekend, with the number of murder victims this year doubling in a grisly 27-hour span.
Four people -- including a 13-year-old boy -- were killed in three incidents between Saturday night and early Monday morning.
The deaths brought the 2007 murder count in the city to eight and spurred Mayor Bob Coble to ask for an update today on an examination of gangs in the city -- which might have played a role in two of the shootings.
"We obviously know we have a gang problem; that's evident," said Coble, who will get that update on gang research conducted by the University of South Carolina and Benedict College.
"What we need to do is determine the dimension of it. Where is it? Who are the young people involved?"
Police do not believe any of the weekend shootings were related, although the department's gang unit has been called in to assist in two of the investigations.
"It appears to be just a tragic weekend," said Sgt. Florence McCants, spokeswoman for the Columbia Police Department.
Police Chief Dean Crisp called the sharp uptick in deadly violence "highly unusual," and added that detectives who ordinarily would not be working the holiday weekend were poring over details of the killings in the quest to find those responsible.
"I don't know if I saw anybody who wasn't working," he said.
No arrests have been made, Crisp said, though investigators are tracking down what he called strong leads.
In the most recent slaying, a 13-year-old middle school student was apparently an innocent bystander when he was shot in the head at a gas station early Monday morning.
Police released a security camera photo of several young men in what appears to be an argument at the Gaz-Bah station at the intersection of Farrow and Wilkes roads in northeast Columbia. They also released a picture of a silver Pontiac Grand Am.
Crisp and McCants described the young men in the photo as "persons of interest" and say they might have driven or ridden in the car.
The picture of the young men has not been published because they have not been identified as suspects. It can be viewed at the department's Web site, columbiapd.com.
"Our focus is on everyone in that picture," McCants said. "We believe they may have information that could be helpful to our investigation."
Le-Kavis Henicks, a student at W.G. Sanders Middle School, was killed around 1 a.m. in the parking lot of the gas station.
His death capped a murderous weekend that began with what police have described as a murder-suicide in a southeast Columbia department store parking lot on Garners Ferry Road on Saturday evening.
Witnesses told police that 53-year old Jesse Moody pulled up behind a woman in her 40s, Anita Bovain, called her name several times and demanded that she get out of the car she was driving.
Moody got out of his car and shot Bovain through her driver's side window, police say. He then went to the passenger side of her car and shot her again before turning the gun on himself.
"The focus of that investigation is on what type of relationship they may have had," McCants said. "We don't know what type of relationship they had and how it led to such a tragic end."
The second deadly shooting of the weekend took place just after midnight on Sunday morning, when 19-year-old Jason Carroll and 20-year-old Derek Spain were shot to death outside the Ames Manor apartment complex on Ames Road, also in northeast Columbia.
The department's gang and narcotics units both are involved in that investigation, Crisp said, but police still were looking to learn more about the victims.
Carroll was shot in the chest and died at the scene. Spain was shot in the head and died at Palmetto Health Richland.
"Pretty good kid"
The argument that led to Henicks' death might have started at a nearby party involving 150 to 200 teens at the Margarette H. Miller Cosmetology Center on Fontaine Road, police said.
The teens, some of whom were flashing gang signs, were asked to leave after some type of altercation began, police said, adding that they then went to the gas station, where the argument resumed.
Someone at the gas station called the police, Crisp said, and an officer was just arriving when gunshots rang out.
"We were on the way," he said. "An officer heard the gunshots as he got out of his vehicle."
Police said they do not believe Henicks was the intended target.
Witnesses have told police that some of the young people were flashing gang signs at the party, McCants said, but she emphasized there is no evidence that Henicks was in a gang.
"We do believe the 13-year old was a random victim," Crisp said. "We believe his shooting was by a stray bullet."
Andrenna Smith, principal at Sanders Middle, described Henicks as a "pretty good kid," who was "very respectful."
"His main concern this year was he wanted to play football," Smith said.