Andrew Dys

Suspect's arrest brings relief, smiles, a good night's sleep

The fear, the terror, finally ended.

A sigh of relief in Rock Hill for those who police say got robbed by Phillip Fleming Watts Jr.

Certainly, a better day Tuesday in Fort Mill and Rock Hill for those who were shot, but survived, in robberies police say Watts has admitted to committing.

Yet, quiet on Rock Hill's Baker Street, where the last victim of what police say was Watts' robbery spree lives.

Baker Street also is where a 76-year-old woman named Maggie Adams lives. She's lived in the same little house since 1953. She knows her street. "I look after and cook for the older ones who aren't gone; maybe the Good Lord has kept me here to do it," she said. Adams' daughter, Linda Louise, died from cancer 5 years ago. But before Linda died, for years, a woman came to the Adams' house five days a week.

"She would bathe her and dress her," Maggie Adams said. "A beautiful person."

Later on, that same lady moved in down the street, around the bend on the other side of the street. Until last week, the woman would wave and toot her horn as she drove by.

That nice lady who bathed and dressed the sick and dying, Adams said, is Ida Neal Lord. On Valentine's Day, the 42-year-old Lord was a customer at a business on Cherry Road when police say 20-year-old Watts shot her in the head and back. Monday afternoon, police arrested Watts. Police say Watts, after he was caught, confessed to seven robberies. In the last three robberies, a total of four people were shot.

At Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, a representative Tuesday said Lord is in critical condition. Lord fights for her life, and her Baker Street house is quiet during the day.

"Terrible what happened to her," Adams said.

Terrible what happened in one of the other robberies in Fort Mill on Feb. 5, when a Vietnamese immigrant named Yen Nguyen, working in her convenience store, was shot in the gut. Former Fort Mill Mayor Charlie Powers -- a customer -- was shot in the face. Nguyen's family wasn't available Tuesday, and the store on Spratt Street remains closed. Powers was in Columbia on Tuesday, receiving a joint resolution from the Legislature for his 24 years of service as mayor that ended just weeks before the shooting. A few people who knew Powers -- the powerful of this state and those who used to be powerful, including a former lieutenant governor -- sought out Powers to tell him they were happy he was alive and there among them to get his award. Powers was happy to be there, too.

"It's as happy as I've been in a long time," he said.

Powers said Nguyen's family had contacted his family several times to check on him. Powers' family had been doing the same with the Nguyens. Strangers born in different countries, now bound forever by gunfire, who check to see if bullet wounds that know no race or nationality will ever heal.

At convenience stores on Rock Hill's West Main Street, across from Northwestern High School, and on White Street at the corner of Charlotte Avenue, clerks Tuesday didn't want to talk about the arrest of Watts, the guy alleged to have also robbed those stores.

The White Street place was hit twice. But the man running that place smiled Tuesday when he declined to talk -- maybe his first real smile in weeks.

And can any of us blame him?

Imagine the fright, the fear, every time the door opened and that little bell rings. Terror brought by one man police say is named Phillip Fleming Watts Jr. A guy out of prison about a month for armed robberies before he allegedly got started again.

The lady who got shot Jan. 28 runs a fish market with her husband on Rock Hill's White Street. Ping Chen runs it now with bullet wounds to her hand and neck. Chen said Tuesday that after she heard of the arrest Monday night. "I slept for the first time, really. I am so happy."

Then she hugged a customer, a man who told her he loved her.

She told the man, "I love you, too."