West Ashley’s Ardmore, near scene of 17-year-old’s shooting death, not violent area it once was
To a sleepy motorist, the Indigo Village shopping plaza on Savannah Highway seems like an ideal place to park and curl up in the back seat.
The parking lot is bathed in light from streetlamps. Surveillance cameras dangle from an office building. A row of shops and a bar create a barrier from the homes in the Ardmore community.
Ardmore once was a territory of violent crimes, and some of West Ashley’s most notorious drug dealers, but it has all but shaken that history.
The problem came to a boiling point in 2007, when residents formed alliances with the authorities. Today, three Charleston Police Department officers are dedicated to Ardmore. They’re tasked with knowing its residents and what they do.
So when Marley Lion stopped there to sleep off an evening of partying, the 17-year-old should have been safe.
But he instead became a victim of circumstance early Saturday.
A man appeared to have been prying at a window of Lion’s sport-utility vehicle, which contained an Apple laptop and a guitar. After the Nissan’s alarm sounded, the would-be burglar backed away, then returned and fired at the SUV with a handgun.
Five bullets lodged in Lion’s body. He died an hour later.
“I would never encourage anyone to sleep in their car,” Deputy Chief Tony Elder said. “But this was a crime of opportunity. This area is not a place where a cold-blooded murder would be the expected outcome of parking there.”
City and police officials earlier this week insisted that Lion was the target of a random and senseless act. His loved ones, however, continue to call on them and state lawmakers to address violence in West Ashley.
“We still need to pursue this,” said Gina Jamison, a friend of Lion’s family. “We need a community push against violence, to put criminals in jail and keep them there. We need to stand up.”
Little is known about the man who killed Lion, a recent graduate of Academic Magnet High School. But 27 pages of supplemental police reports released Thursday account for some of the events leading up to his death and the response to it.
Detectives spoke with friends of Lion’s who last saw him at a house party with 15 to 20 people in West Ashley’s Carolina Bay, about 5 miles from the shooting scene. Lion smoked marijuana, but “they only saw him drink one beer and advised that he never appeared inebriated,” a report stated.
His parents and friends acknowledged that Lion was a casual user of marijuana and alcohol.
Lion’s mother, Liz Paige, told detectives that she had last communicated with him by text messages in which she expressed concern.
That was around 1 a.m. Saturday, when Lion left the party.
Nothing about his whereabouts after the party were recorded in the reports. He pulled his Nissan into the shopping plaza around 3:40 a.m., too tired to drive the rest of the way home to Johns Island.
It wasn’t unlike Lion to pull over and sleep because he was concerned about drunken driving, his friends and parents told the authorities.
He stopped in a parking spot across from Famous Joe’s Bar and Grill at 1662 Savannah Highway. A street light shined directly overhead. A surveillance camera pointed at his SUV.
Lion was resting on a pillow in the back seat when he saw two men walk up, he later told officers.
As one man works to enter the SUV, an alarm sounds, according to video that captured the incident. Headlights flash. The man initially retreats but returns and fires repeatedly into the rear driver’s side window.
The shooter then ran over a gravel path leading to Ardmore, where the police later would find evidence in the killing.
Many Ardmore residents heard the gunfire, but only one person at a nearby apartment complex called 911. Reached by The Post and Courier this week, the caller said, “I would’ve acted if I saw someone.”
“It sounded like five small-caliber: 9 mm, .380,” the caller said. “I heard a car alarm going off outside.”
One resident of Balsam Street told detectives that he woke at 2 a.m. and ate breakfast. Two hours later, he heard the gunshots, but he thought his neighbor was just “shooting at varmints,” according to reports.
The resident, who wasn’t named, then strolled toward Yew Street, which runs by the parking lot. He saw Lion lying on the ground. The SUV’s door was open. A window had been smashed.
The man told detectives that he didn’t know Lion was hurt and thought he was simply intoxicated.
So he left.
Lion had suffered five bullet wounds to his chest, thigh, hip and lower back.
Five days later, 700 people gathered for his funeral at St. James Episcopal Church on James Island and said goodbye.
This week, the streets of Ardmore have been quiet.
Children on bicycles and scooters have outnumbered adults. Motorists who use the community’s streets as a shortcut from Savannah Highway to Ashley River Road have obeyed traffic laws.
The police flooded the area after the shooting, bolstering the usual force of three officers dedicated to Ardmore. And residents knew it.
On a recent day, Sgt. Jason Bruder and a patrol officer walked down Ardmore’s streets. They greeted a family laughing on a house porch. They chatted with a man and a woman lounging in lawn chairs.
“We’re going to be out and about for the next few days because of the shooting,” Bruder told them. “But nobody’s really talking about it right now.”
“I hope you dig something up,” Joe Daley, who was sitting in the shade along Evergreen Street, told Bruder. “That kid definitely didn’t deserve that.”
One report documented police interviews with 20 residents. Most had no information. One resident told a detective that “they got it hot around here because of what happen.”
Two other men were questioned at police headquarters. They told detectives they had been smoking crack cocaine Saturday morning at an apartment complex elsewhere in West Ashley. When they ran out of crack, they walked to Ardmore to buy more and heard the gunshots.
Lt. Brian Ambrose, who supervises officers in the area, said that most residents have been cooperative.
“We have some challenges with the location and time of the incident,” Ambrose said. “It’s just not something that would lend itself to firsthand accounts.”
The Rev. Christian King, who lives on Ardmore’s Mulberry Street, said Lion’s death shouldn’t be an example of what goes on here.
It was 2007 when a group of residents got fed up with violence and formed the Ardmore-Sherwood Forest Neighborhood Association, which King now leads.
The association formed alliances with the police, the mayor and other neighborhood groups, including churches.
It resulted in residents feeling more comfortable with the authorities, King said. They’ve since become more observant of crime. Some residents even have photographed suspicious people, she said. Others show up at hearings to persuade magistrates to set high bail amounts.
“There’s still an underlying drug issue in certain parts,” King said. “And it’s not unusual for someone to do a violent act close to the community and run through it to get away. But that doesn’t mean it’s connected.”
This year, two robberies have been reported at the same address where Lion was killed. In April, a man suspected of robbing Five Guys Burgers and Fries was arrested hours later in Ardmore.
But officials said that arrest was made because of tips from residents who wouldn’t have felt comfortable coming forward five years ago.
“If there was a horrible problem, there would be points in Ardmore where you’d have victims of crime all the time,” said Capt. Chip Searson, who leads the Police Department’s west division. “You don’t have this group of individuals intent on doing harm to people. It’s a safe place.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.