Crime

Peach Stand clerk killed by stranger in ‘random’ Fort Mill murder; suspect charged

Police respond to shooting at The Peach Stand in Fort Mill

Fort Mill police are investigating a shooting at The Peach Stand in Fort Mill, South Carolina Tuesday afternoon. Police said a woman was killed and a suspect was taken into custody.
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Fort Mill police are investigating a shooting at The Peach Stand in Fort Mill, South Carolina Tuesday afternoon. Police said a woman was killed and a suspect was taken into custody.

In what police have described as a “random” killing by a stranger, authorities say a 28-year-old Lancaster man fatally shot a 19-year-old female employee at the Peach Stand in Fort Mill.

Christopher Benjamin Mendez has been charged with murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, in the death of Karson Bailey Whitesell, police said Wednesday.

Arrest warrants were served late Wednesday afternoon, Fort Mill police Maj. Bryan Zachary said in a release. A bond hearing was conducted afterward, and bond was denied on both charges.

Mendez was to be transferred to the York County Detention Center, Zachary said.

Mendez was taken into custody minutes after the shooting around 4:40 p.m. Tuesday. He was apprehended without incident after he went into the store, crowded with customers and employees, where Whitesell was shot, police said.

Fort Mill Police Chief Jeff Helms said that no connection between Mendez and Whitesell has been found.

“Our investigation so far shows that at this time it appears to be a random act,” Helms said. “Investigators have not found, at this point, that the suspect and the victim knew each other.”

Police have not released a motive for the crime.

Both Helms and Zachary said after the shooting Tuesday evening that there was no other threat to public safety after Mendez was taken into custody.

Mendez, of Pardue Street in Lancaster, has no criminal record in South Carolina, according to State Law Enforcement Division records.

The shooting was not a domestic violence incident or an attempted robbery, Zachary said in a written statement. Police have not yet said if there is surveillance video that captured the crime despite the shooting happening inside a store.

Whitesell had worked at the store since 2016 as a cashier. The store’s employees and owners are “devastated” by the loss of an “extraordinary” person, according to a statement from Peach Stand officials.

“She was an emerging leader, always happy to help, and we counted on her to fill in occasionally for managers,” the statement said.

No one else was injured in the gunfire. Police have not said what type of weapon was used.

Police did not say if the gun was recovered, though Mendez was apprehended at the scene.

The shooting happened during the busy afternoon rush at the iconic produce store, restaurant, deli and specialty store at the intersection of S.C. 160 and U.S 21. The Peach Stand will remain closed Thursday, according to a statement from the store.

Zachary said such an incident is unusual in the town of about 15,000 residents. The incident happened at the edge of the town limits of Fort Mill, just east of Interstate 77. York County Sheriff’s Office deputies assisted Fort Mill police.

Some of the officers on the scene after a 911 call about shots fired were York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit officers who were former co-workers of Mike Doty, the slain York County Sheriff’s Office detective. Doty was shot last week in what police said was an ambush by a domestic violence suspect.

Doty was assigned to the northern York County drug unit based at the Fort Mill Police Department less than a mile from Tuesday’s shooting at the Peach Stand.

Kevin Tolson, York County Sheriff, said police remain committed to public safety and coordination among police agencies.

“In spite of the tragedy where Mike Doty died and the other officers were injured, we have responded to all calls and are going to respond wherever we are needed without hesitation,” Tolson said Wednesday. “We will protect the public from violent individuals.”

Tolson said “our hearts are broken” for Whitesell’s family who have to deal with the loss from a shooting death.

“My heart breaks for that family,” Tolson said.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065, @AndrewDysHerald

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