By Robert Kittle
COLUMBIA, SC -- An 18-year-old USC student from Greenville was shot and critically injured early Sunday morning when she was hit by a stray bullet in Columbia's Five Points area near campus.
According to the victim's uncle, Jim Carpenter, 18-year-old Martha Childress can't move from the hips down, and also suffered damage to her liver and her kidney.
Childress graduated in the spring from a high school in Greenville, where she earned a 4.0 grade-point average. She is now a freshman at USC and a member of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority.
According to Columbia police, Michael Juan Smith, 20, was arguing with another man Saturday when he pulled out a stolen handgun and fired two shots.
One bullet hit Childress, who is in the hospital and has still managed to thank those who are praying for her.
"Thanks to everyone who's kept me in their constant thoughts and prayers through this difficult time! The support means so much to me!" Childress wrote on her Twitter account.
Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago says 20-year-old Juan Smith, who is now jailed on 5 charges, was stopped just seconds after shooting and arrested. The police report says Smith was carrying a gun that had been fired twice.
Chief Santiago says Smith got into an altercation with two men near the Exxon gas station in Five Points, near the iconic fountain. Chief Santiago says Smith pulled out the gun and fired twice.
He didn't hit either man, but one of the bullets hit the female student in her right side. She was with friends near a taxi stand by the fountain, waiting for a cab to take her home. The shooting took place around 2:30 a.m.
A judge denied bond for Smith, so he's still in jail. He's charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature. He's also a convicted felon, which means he can't legally have a gun, so he's also charged with possession of a firearm by a person convicted of a violent felony, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, unlawful carrying of a pistol, and possession of a stolen pistol.
Chief Santiago says there are between 10 and 20 officers in Five Points at any given time on weekends, and they heard the gunshots and saw Smith running. The area has an extensive network of security cameras and the shooting was recorded.
"Officer presence has been very successful," he says. "If you notice, we have our officers in brightly colored vests. Our police cars, every chance we get we're trying to turn on our blue lights. We have a very sophisticated camera network down there. You would think all that would deter someone thinking about doing this type of activity, this crime, this malicious, heinous action. But it didn't, and that's one of those things that always concerns me as a police chief, but also our department, to look at strategies."
The University of South Carolina says it's also talking about what it can do to improve student safety in Five Points, which is at the edge of campus and is popular for its many restaurants and bars.
USC spokesman Wes Hickman says, "There's conversations going on right now at senior levels in the university to talk about what can we do next? What more needs to be done? What do we need to call on others to do in order to provide that environment for students?"
Amy Beth Franks, executive director of the Five Points Association, says the violence in Five Points is frustrating for the merchants there.
"I think that the police are continuously working on efforts to make this as safe as possible," she says. "We've had huge improvements in their patrolling styles. They're walking in groups of two throughout the whole neighborhood."
But that won't prevent all crime. "We can do as much as we can with police patrolling and cameras everywhere, but we aren't going to be able to tell people exactly how to act."
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