To offer tips

Authorities are hoping neighbors and the public supply tips. Police ask anyone with information on any of these shootings to contact investigators at 554-5700 or Crime Stoppers at 554-1111.

Splintered wood and shattered glass marred a single-story brick house on North Charleston's Ventura Drive on Thursday. At least a dozen white tags scattered along the home's exterior showed the path of bullets that pierced the house the night before, killing a woman who lived there.

The shooting was one of three that occurred within two miles of each other on New Year's Day, ushering in a bloody start to 2014. Two women died from the gunfire, a third was wounded on Aintree Avenue. Authorities identified the slain women as Debra Randall Martin, 49, of Ventura Drive, and Janet Royal, 52, of Niagara Street.

North Charleston Police Chief Eddie Driggers wouldn't discuss the shootings or say whether they are separate instances or a possible shooting spree. He said the violence was "too fresh" to share details.

The shootings have a lot of women in North Charleston worried, according to Elder James Johnson, a police chaplain and leader of the local National Action Network, a group trying to reverse gun violence.

"We got a lot of calls today from women worried they're being targeted," he said.

Police released a statement Thursday in an effort to dispel possible rumors or speculation.

"At this stage in the investigation the three incidents do not appear to be targeted acts of violence towards women," police spokesman Spencer Pryor said.

North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey called the killings, which are the city's first homicides of the year, "tragic."

"We feel sorry for the families," he said. "I believe as close as all of these are to each other, we'll find some thread."

Ventura Drive

The most recent shooting occurred at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Ventura Drive home. Martin was found unresponsive on the living room floor inside the home, according to police. Martin was pronounced dead at the scene. Coroner's officials said she died of a gunshot wound to the back.

Shell casings were found in the front yard, Pryor said, and it appears the front of the house was struck by bullets.

A neighbor, Jeanette Drayton, 62, was home celebrating with family when the shots were said to have been fired.

Drayton initially thought the noise was fireworks. After all, she said, it was New Year's Day. But then, her son pointed out that it was raining outside.

"No one shoots fireworks in the rain. We knew something wasn't right," Drayton said.

Before long, police officers and paramedics swarmed her neighbor's home, according to Drayton.

Drayton's prior interactions with Martin largely consisted of the occasional wave shared between neighbors. But she said she welcomed Martin's daughter and husband into her home Wednesday night while emergency crews worked the crime scene.

According to Drayton, Martin's daughter was talking on the phone with her mother when she heard gunshots and a scream on the other end of the line. The daughter raced to her mother's home while wearing only pajamas and socks on her feet.

Drayton and her family brought the distraught daughter in from the rain and gave her shoes and warm clothes to wear. Martin's husband later arrived at Drayton's home after being turned away by police and yellow tape that surrounded his house.

On Thursday morning, Drayton questioned why her neighbors would be a target. The part of the Wando Woods subdivision where the shooting occurred is normally quiet, she said.

Drayton speculated that gang activity by local youths might be the cause of the trouble.

"I asked one of the officers if he thought I should leave the area and stay with my daughter for a few days. I need to know if it's safe. Just answering the door and looking through the window can get you killed," Drayton said. "I thought about it for a while and decided this is my home, I'm not going anywhere. I can't run from death."

Aintree Avenue

North Charleston police are investigating another shooting that happened that day around 5 a.m. on Aintree Avenue in the Dorchester Terrace subdivision. Officers found the victim, 41-year-old Sabrina Green, shot inside the home near the front door with her husband holding a towel to her head.

Green told police she heard a knock at the door and then heard several rounds of gunfire. Her husband, Richeley Fyall, told police his wife went to answer a knock on the door and someone started shooting through the door. Struck by bullets, she fell backward onto a table and he saw her bleeding from her head, the report stated.

Green, also shot in the right hip area, was taken to Medical University Hospital, police said. Information about her condition was not available.

A neighbor Allen Elliott, 65, also heard the shots. He immediately recognized the sound due to time spent in Vietnam, he said.

Bullet holes in the family's front door and banister were visible Thursday morning.

"That's pretty cruel, what happened over there," Elliott said. "They're just average people who go back and forth to work every day."

Niagara Street

Also around 5 a.m., police responded to a home on Niagara Street and found Royal had been shot and was lying on the living room floor. She was rushed to Medical University Hospital, where she later died.

The woman's son told officers he heard knocking and when his mother went to answer the front door, he heard several rounds of gunfire.

Royal's 9-year-old niece was asleep inside the home during the shooting but was not injured, according to an incident report.

Neighbors were questioned about the incident but were uncooperative with police, an incident report stated. Police saw drugs in their house and arrested three people, charging each of them with drug trafficking and weapons possession, unrelated to the shooting.

Several spent cartridges also were found around four cars parked at that neighboring home, according to the report. Investigators did not say if those spent rounds matched any of the shootings or if the individuals arrested are suspected of the shootings.

On Thursday, a woman walked her dog passed the Niagara Street home. The neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said she didn't know Royal well and she didn't hear the shots. But she tightly gripped her dog's leash, saying she was wary walking the street and concerned about the way the shooting occurred. "I won't open my door if someone knocks," she said.

Dave Munday contributed to this report. Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or Twitter.com/celmorePC and Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.