For years before his death, Don'ta Pringle shared his pride in his Summerville roots with a group of fellow residents.
At a glance
Weapon, race, sex
Breakdown by weapon, race and sex of the 46 tri-county homicide deaths in 2013:
Involved hands/blunt object
Involved a knife
RACE AND SEX
White women (15.2%)
Black women (8.7%)
White men (8.7%)
Source: Incident reports
They called themselves Summa Town Bound. They threw up four fingers to show solidarity.
Homicides by the numbers
Law agencies in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties reported 46 homicide deaths in 43 separate incidents in 2013. Additionally, two men died in officer-involved shootings in unincorporated Charleston County and in Hanahan. The numbers broken down by jurisdiction in the past two years:
Agency 2012 2013
Berkeley Co. total 15 7
Sheriff's Office 11 6
Goose Creek 2 1
Moncks Corner 1 0
Hanahan 1 0
Charleston Co. total 36 32
North Charleston 13 16
Charleston 12 7
Sheriff's Office 9 8
Mount Pleasant 2 1
Dorchester Co. total 6 7
Sheriff's Office 3 6
Summerville 3 0
St. George 0 1
Tri-county totals 57 46
Source: Data provided by law enforcement; agencies not listed reported no 2012-13 homicides
A confident 22-year-old who would rarely back down from a fistfight, Pringle sometimes found himself in tight spots when he was with the group.
At Plan B, a West Ashley nightclub, they scuffled with members of another group called West Cash, many of whom hailed from the Ardmore community.
But when they butted heads a second time July 14 in downtown Charleston, Pringle wouldn't live to see his 1-year-old daughter again.
He was fatally shot outside a Meeting Street gas station, where he had been socializing after the hip-hop concert he attended at The Music Farm was shut down because of a fight. One of Pringle's friends put the issue in plain terms in a later interview with the Charleston police.
"They don't like (Pringle) or his friends because they are in West Ashley and his friends are in Summerville," a detective noted in a report.
Pringle's death was among several of the 46 homicides last year in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties that were linked to close-knit cliques some have dubbed "gangs." While authorities said most of the groups lack the structure and sustained criminal activity of storied rival gangs, such as the Bloods or the Crips, they played a role in violence in 2013 and will be a focus for some area law enforcement agencies this year.
Overall, the tri-county region saw 11 fewer homicides in 2013 than in the previous year.
But two agencies that reported the greatest upticks, the North Charleston Police Department and the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office, handled multiple homicides in which gang-like groups were implicated.
Three of North Charleston's homicides came in one incident sparked by a dispute that the police said was between rival motorcycle clubs.
North Charleston led the region in homicides two years after posting its lowest murder rate in decades, an achievement that had been partially attributed to aggressive policing. Its police force investigated 16 deaths in 2013, compared with 13 in 2012 and five in 2011.
But the city's police chief said during a recent interview with The Post and Courier that he hasn't seen any real trends to explain the increased violence.
The state's third-largest city is already off to a bloody start in 2014, with two women slain in separate shootings on New Year's Day.
North Charleston's deadliest day came on June 29 when a dispute between members of the Real Kings Motorcycle Club and the Wheels of Soul erupted in gunfire outside a Cycle Gear store on Dorchester Road. Three men were killed.
Investigators ruled two of those deaths to be justifiable homicides. A Summerville man faces a murder charge in the third death, though he too has insisted that he acted in self-defense.
The gunmen involved in the episode had limited arrest histories and were regarded by loved ones as caring and hardworking. But the clubs they belonged to are affiliated with umbrella biker groups that have violently butted heads nationwide.
Members of other, more loosely knit groups also contributed to the city's violence by striking out at rivals from other neighborhoods over turf issues, drug disputes and perceived matters of pride.
Aggressive patrolling to clamp down on those feuding factions created a perception among some community members in recent years that North Charleston was predominately targeting black residents. But former Chief Jon Zumalt maintained that the practices drove down violent crime from its height of 28 homicides in 2006.
When former sheriff's deputy and chaplain Eddie Driggers took over the department in January 2013, he said he would consider changes to those tactics and would welcome input from the black leaders who felt alienated by Zumalt. But he also said he would take time to evaluate the tactics before enacting any new measures.
Driggers said last week that the department strives to reinvent itself daily to make a difference. More officers have been placed in schools to build trust and ties with youths, and the police take every opportunity to meet with residents to improve relations with the community at large, he said.
Driggers said he hasn't seen all the statistics from last year yet and couldn't speak to possible trends off the top of his head. Driggers said he senses that some criminals band together based on the areas they live in, but he hasn't seen any indication that they are warring.
North Charleston police officers reported Dec. 15 that a 13-year-old boy who belonged to the Young Goons gang shot a 14-year-old from the rival Young Gunnas during an argument about their respective affiliations. The teen survived that episode.
As for the killings, Driggers said each incident - not just the totality of numbers - is troubling, and he grieves for every victim and family.
"For me, it's not about the numbers," he said, "it's about the individuals involved."
All but two of the 16 people slain last year in North Charleston were black. Of the 46 victims throughout the area, 74 percent were black.
North Charleston was far from the only community struggling with the notion of gangs or wannabes.
When 24-year-old Larry Jackson disappeared from his Summerville community in April, his loved ones worried that two men with guns were looking for him.
Local authorities knew Jackson as a Bloods member who once shot at a member of the Folk Nation gang organization and the three Summerville police officers who were questioning the man during a traffic stop.
Hunters found Jackson's body in mid-August. He had been shot in the head and left in a forest near St. George.
Deputies later arrested Shawn Maurice Kitt, a 24-year-old who lived nearby. Kitt already had served a 15-month prison sentence for his part in a 2011 shooting in a Summerville mobile home park.
Jackson was one of six people slain last year in the jurisdiction of the Dorchester County Sheriff's Office, doubling its total from 2012.
The shooting death of a 23-year-old woman at the Starlite Lounge near St. George also was linked to gangs.
Sierra Denise Truesdale wasn't the intended target in the dispute inside the nightclub involving the Get Money Cowboys, a Walterboro-area street gang. But she died, and two others were wounded.
Chief Deputy Sam Richardson said deputies have been working with club owners to beef up security and patrol parking lots to combat such acts of violence. The shootings at area clubs also have some deputies in Dorchester County tracking an uptick in gang activity, he said.
"It's something that's not just a trend for our agency," he said. "They're starting to see it in other tri-county agencies. ... How organized they are varies from area to area."
Still, Sheriff L.C. Knight said the public shouldn't fret about the increase in homicides. He sees the rise as a possible by-product of the steady population growth of about 5 percent that the county sees almost annually.
"Every year, we grow in population," Knight said. "Crime is going to grow, too. That's a reason for it."
In Charleston County, gang activity spilling over from the Walterboro area has grabbed Sheriff Al Cannon's attention.
Deputies have handled past nightclub shootings in the county's rural southern towns, such as Hollywood and Ravenel, that were tied to Colleton County gang members, he said.
"They're not necessarily gangs with a capital G," Cannon said. "They're territorial. The territorial groups out of Walterboro come to clubs in Charleston County and cause problems."
The homicide tally for his agency was nearly static from 2012 to 2013. It reported eight last year and nine in 2012. But Cannon said his deputies still will work more closely with other local law enforcers in 2014 to target gang violence.
"The jails are a part of that," he said. "That's where we see the tattoos. That's how we get part of the intelligence."
Like Cannon's jurisdiction, none of the 2013 homicides for the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office had obvious gang implications, though an agency official said the groups factored into other incidents. Its homicide total fell from 10 in 2012 to six last year.
Capt. Rick Ollic said a new ordinance that requires nightclubs to close at 2 a.m. and more "proactive" patrols have helped temper the violence.
"You've got to look at those troubled areas like the clubs," he said. "You've got to put more emphasis on those areas so you can decrease it."
Charleston also saw a decrease in homicides, dropping from a dozen in 2012 to seven last year. Police Chief Greg Mullen said police focusing attention on repeat offenders and working hard to get guns and drugs off the street have helped to keep violence down.
"While obviously we want to have zero, it's obviously a relief when the numbers go down," he said.
Mullen said he has not seen much indication of entrenched, organized gangs here, but he has noticed the violent effects of territorial allegiances and conflicts. Strong neighborhood ties exist throughout the region, and those groups don't always get along, he said.
"There are clearly some territorial issues there," he said. "I'm not sure I would say that is an outgrowth of any gang activity, but there are definitely conflicts between different groups of individuals."
Prior beefs definitely lurked in the background when Pringle and his friends encountered the West Cash crowd in July, the police said.
Pringle, the Summa Town Bound member, had traveled to Charleston on July 13 to have fun with five friends at The Music Farm, the site of a weekly hip-hop and rap series called "Summer Saturdays." Among his group was Rashad "Bubby" Judge, who had spent more than a year in jail for participating in a 2010 robbery and shooting that wounded a Domino's Pizza delivery woman.
That Saturday, the show featured local rapper Rudy, who released a new record with his song "Ball." It also served as a birthday party for four young women.
But an altercation that broke out at the Ann Street venue abruptly ended the party in the early morning hours. One police report indicated that the fight may have involved a handgun.
Revelers were kicked out.
The show's organizer, Team Lev, would cancel the concert series a week later because of the episode and what happened next.
The police broke up a scuffle between 30 or 40 people in the nearby parking garage. Two officers ran into Pringle in a stairwell as he argued with a smaller group.
"They tried to jump me," Pringle said before the officers asked him to leave, according to a report.
Pringle rode with his friends to an Exxon station three blocks north at 420 Meeting St. and joined other concertgoers already milling there. Pringle struck up a conversation with a young woman celebrating her birthday that night.
Already, people there were mad at Pringle's crew because they "got all the girls," one of his friends told the police.
The members of the West Cash group, who were friends with the organizer of the show that night, had stopped at the Exxon station as well to "holla" from a rental Chevrolet Tahoe at the same group of women. When they returned a few minutes later for a second pass, Pringle and his friends were there, one of Pringle's friends told detectives.
Pringle walked up to the SUV, but he soon started running back toward his friends.
"Get down," he said. "Get down."
Investigators surmised that the shooter stood on an upside-down bucket in a neighboring residential yard, aimed his pistol over a cinderblock dividing wall and fired.
Bullets hit a young woman and a man who the police said were unintended victims of reckless gunfire. They survived.
"I'm hit," Pringle said.
He fell into the laps of his friends who had piled into the backseat of the car. They pulled up his shirt and saw the bullet wound in his back.
Pringle hung on until his friends took him to Medical University Hospital, where he died minutes after he was placed on an operating table.
Three men face murder charges in his killing: Brian Ancrum, Glendell Gladden Jr. and Omar Kornickey.
Five days after the slaying, Pringle's friends from Summerville gathered in a parking lot and filmed a YouTube video. Men, women and children wore white T-shirts emblazoned with "Rest in peace, D-Lite," his nickname.
Some held up four fingers, the group's symbol, or shaped their fingers into a handgun as one man chanted curses at West Cash.
Months later, on New Year's Day, a dozen men held bottles of alcohol, showed their symbol and stood over two graves adorned with poinsettias. They posed for a photo that was later published on Facebook.
In a video on the social media site, one of the men opened a can of Bud Light, poured the beer onto Pringle's grave and said, "We miss you, bro. Happy new year."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede. Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or twitter.com/glennsmith5.