Fort Mill shooting victim gave to less fortunate, ‘always knew what to say’
It’s been 15 months since Karson Whitesell was killed in what police say was a random shooting at an iconic Fort Mill store.
Debbie Harrison wants to keep the memory of her 19-year-old daughter alive. Whitesell of Rock Hill was shot and killed while working Jan. 23, 2018 at the Peach Stand in Fort Mill.
And 15 months after her death, S.C. legislators moved to permanently memorialize Whitesell. The new name for the Peach Stand street intersection now is the Karson Bailey Whitesell Memorial Intersection.
“After this happened, right there on the front porch of Fort Mill, we all wanted to do something special,” S.C. Rep. Raye Felder said. “But it was such a sensitive time.”
Felder, who represents parts of York County including the area around the Peach Stand store and cafe, said the resolution was a collaboration between the entire York County delegation of S.C. legislators.
“It excites me,” Harrison said. “Actually, I have all kinds of emotions about it. I’m excited about it, it makes me happy. But it also, you know, it’s very emotional.”
The resolution to mark the intersection of U.S. Highway 21 and S.C. Highway 160, where the Peach Stand is located, with a memorial marker was passed in the S.C. House of Representatives April 12, and in the S.C. Senate on April 23.
The resolution will be sent to the S.C. Department of Transportation, and a date to set up the marker will be set with the DOT and Whitesell’s family, Felder said.
Whitesell was remembered by friends and family as a talented and caring person who volunteered in the community and in mission trips to Swaziland and South Africa.
“She made an impact on everyone she’s crossed paths with, and we’re all going to miss her dearly,” Whitesell’s friend Destini Jayla told The Herald in January 2018.
Harrison started a non-profit in her honor, Karson’s Kompassion Project, to continue Karson’s work.
The non-profit collected over 3,000 stuffed animals in May 2018 for York County police departments to give to kids in traumatic situations. Harrison said she hopes to collect 5,000 this year.
The non-profit will have collection boxes at Comporium and the Peach Stand.
“The whole reason I started Karson’s Kompassion Project was because I wanted to make sure that Karson was never forgotten,” Harrison said. “And this is just a part of that — and that makes me excited. Even if people don’t know the story, if they don’t know about Karson’s Kompassion Project, they’re still going to drive down the road and see that this road is named, this section of the road is named after her.
“And maybe that’ll make them ask about who she is and her story, and make them learn about her because of it. It just makes my momma heart happy that although she’s not here, the legacy of her life is continuing.”
Harrison said there are still hard days, and days she has to remind herself that her daughter isn’t coming home.
“We all have faith that we’ll see Karson again and that we’re just doing the best we can to honor her in the process, while we’re relying on our faith,” Harrison said. “Of course, there are hard days. … I still have to tell myself that she’s not just in Africa, that she’s not coming home this time. That’s kind of a brutal slap in the face to have to do. But that’s just part of my story, part of my reality. I miss her terribly.”
The Peach Stand is a landmark in Fort Mill and the tragedy of Whitesell’s death still affects many residents, Felder said.
“The pain is still there, the sadness is still there,” she said. “Even though we’re a very growing community, we’re a very close-knit community.”
15 months after her daughter’s death, Harrison said she is glad the legislature plans to mark the place Whitesell lost her life.
“I’m excited about it, but I also – It’s just mixed emotions,” she said. “But I feel very appreciative that others want to help me in making sure that people don’t forget her.”