Hundreds hold vigil for Fort Mill clerk who ‘spread peace and friendship’
The Lancaster man charged with murder in the death of a 19-year-old female clerk at the iconic Peach Stand in Fort Mill shot her multiple times with a handgun, according to arrest warrants.
Christopher Benjamin Mendez, 28, was arrested Tuesday, in what police have called the “random” killing of Karson Whitesell of Rock Hill.
Whitesell was working as a clerk at The Peach Stand when Mendez shot her “several times with a handgun,” the warrants state.
Mendez has been charged with murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime in Whitesell’s death, police said Wednesday.
He was denied bond on both charges.
Mendez has no previous criminal record in South Carolina, State Law Enforcement Division records show.
Mendez, who worked for the Goodwill store in Lancaster, “seemed like a normal guy,” according to his neighbors at Palmetto Place Apartments in Lancaster.
“He didn’t act like something was off,” one neighbor, who asked not to be identified, said Thursday.
The Lancaster News interviewed Mendez’ mother, Olga Félix, Thursday and reported she said she was “inconsolable” and asked for forgiveness from the Whitesell family.
Félix and Mendez lived together, neighbors said. The Lancaster News reported the two are originally from Camuy, Puerto Rico; people born in Puerto Rico are American citizens.
“I just don’t know what happened that he would do that,” she told The Lancaster News in Spanish. “He’s never been like that. I don’t know what happened that day.”
Herald news partner WSOC-TV spoke with Chris Anderson, who was at The Peach Stand the day of the shooting. WSOC-TV reported Anderson saw a man with a gun, and Whitesell lying on the floor.
The man asked “for us to call the police,” the station reported Anderson said.
Mendez was determined to be indigent by a Fort Mill judge in his initial appearance Wednesday, after he was charged with murder.
He was appointed a lawyer and the 16th Circuit Public Defender's Office now is representing Mendez, said Harry Dest, chief public defender.
“Our office has been appointed the case, and we will begin our own independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the case immediately,” Dest said.
Dest declined to comment on the evidence in the case or say when Mendez might next appear in court.
Mendez is being held without bond at the York County jail.
Murder in South Carolina carries a minimum of 30 years in prison for a conviction, with a maximum of life.
Hundreds gathered to honor Whitesell’s memory at The Peach Stand Thursday night.
Services for Whitesell will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Illumine Church in Rock Hill.
Hannah Smoot: 803-329-4068