Days before Christmas 2012, Keith Alextruss Williams showed up at the Game Room, a Ladson nightclub. Deputies knew him to have ties to "Town of Lincolnville," or TOL, a local gang.

He partied alongside Nathaniel Nelson Green, a rap singer from the town. Officers knew of Green, too. He had done prison time for shooting someone amid a crowd at a Thanksgiving parade in Mount Pleasant.

At some point, a fight broke out at the Game Room. Williams drew a pistol, deputies said, and fired 14 times. Someone fired back, hitting Green in the hip.

Williams escaped unharmed, but he later was arrested.

After Green recovered and Williams posted bail, the two got together again a week ago in Myrtle Beach. They went there to party May 24 during Atlantic Beach Bikefest.

But that night, they found themselves in another brawl. Gunshots resounded, and Williams went down.

Green ran to the Bermuda Sands Motel. A gunman followed and unleashed another volley, missing Green but hitting three other friends from the Summerville area.

When it ended, Jamie Alexander Williams, 28, Devonte Herman Dantzler, 21, and Sandy Geddis Barnwell, 22, were dead, and Keith Williams clung to life at a hospital.

Myrtle Beach police investigators have labeled the shooting a result of possible gang activity, but a spokesman stopped short of naming any group that the Summerville-area residents might have encountered that Saturday night. An alleged shooter has not been arrested.

But the Lincolnville group is one of several street gangs that have caught the interest of local law agencies. The FBI indicated in 2011 that 33,000 of them have proliferated nationwide.

All of the young men who were shot have been accused of being on one side of a gun or the other in the past, and Charleston County Sheriff's Office Maj. Eric Watson said deputies were working with Myrtle Beach police officers to look at their backgrounds for clues in the shooting.

"Most of the activity involved with these groups is criminal activity - weapons, drugs - that tends to promote violence," Watson said. "Mostly, they fight over turf."

The gunshot survivor

Friends knew Jamie Williams as "Jam."

He was 19 in 2005, when he was arrested on his first felony drug charge. Summerville police officers reported finding crack cocaine in his sock when they stopped the car he was in.

The next year, he was riding with a friend, Sterling "Sterlo" Spann, 19, a rap performer. Spann had created Top of the Line Production Co., which used the same "TOL" initials as the Lincolnville gang.

That night in August 2006, the duo stopped at a Lincolnville home where masked men had just robbed a woman. The men turned their guns on the two. Williams got shot four times, but he lived. Spann was killed, and the robbers were imprisoned.

In the coming years, Williams was jailed for drug and gun possession.

In 2008, deputies searched his Lincolnville home and found a .357-caliber pistol and marijuana. His brother, Jerry Williams, also a rap artist, was charged with distributing the drug.

Later that year, Jamie Williams ran from deputies who tried to stop his car. A deputy shot him with a Taser during a foot chase and reported finding $701 in cash on Williams and 33 bags of marijuana in his car.

The TV subject

Dantzler, the youngest of the victims, first ran into trouble as a student at Summerville High School.

He was featured in 2011 on "Beyond Scared Straight," an A&E television show that documents at-risk teenagers in prison-run programs. A YouTube video showed him and other teens being lectured by a double murderer at Lieber Correctional Institution in Ridgeville.

"The track you're on," the inmate said, "you're going to be right here with me."

At one point, Dantzler laughed.

"Let him laugh," the inmate said. "When the laughing is over, people like you cry."

By the end of the program, Dantzler was attending church and staying out of trouble.

But in October 2010, Summerville police officers accused him of trying to buy video games with credit cards stolen from a teacher. He was expelled after brass knuckles and marijuana were found in his car outside the school, the TV show's website stated.

He and a friend were arrested in October 2011 on charges that they had two firearms, including a handgun with a 36-round magazine, in their car.

His mother later told TV producers that her son had gone to live with his grandmother.

"Devonte ain't doing nothing with his time," she said on the website.

The rap singer

Green ran into trouble before he moved to Lincolnville.

Mount Pleasant police officers who responded to gunfire in August 2006 said they stopped his car on S.C. Highway 41 and found nine small bags of marijuana inside.

He was arrested the next year when a report stated that he dropped crack cocaine in front of a Charleston officer.

In 2008, at the end of a Thanksgiving parade in Mount Pleasant's Snowden community, Green got into a fight and shot a man in the arm. He cooperated with responding officers, who found a revolver in his car.

"I cool," he told them, according to an arrest affidavit. "I done put everything down."

He was sentenced to five years in prison in 2010, when he pleaded guilty to assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature.

Green left prison in March 2012 and started serving probation for cocaine trafficking.

He has since established himself as the rapper "Lane Boy G." Some also knew him under an alias, Gerren Nelson. Posted on YouTube in January, a music video of one of his songs, "Cut Throat," shows men packing bags of white powder into a car and holding others at gunpoint.

"I rob," he raps. "I kill. I jack. It ain't no lying."

An alleged shooter

Keith "Keezy" Williams had been scheduled to enter a plea Wednesday in the 2012 shooting in Ladson. The attempted murder charge was the most serious of his lifetime.

He had a past arrest from May 2011 on charges that he had crack cocaine during a Lincolnville traffic stop, but he had no convictions.

Carol Simmons, the grandmother he lived with on East Railroad Avenue, said he had started to turn his life around. He posted $100,000 bail in July, went to work at Wal-mart, and became religious, she said.

Her grandson hung out with a group of friends, Simmons explained, not a gang. Jamie Williams was one of those friends, she added, not a relative.

"He was just trying to get his life together," she said. "He was trying to do what was right."

Barnwell picked up Keith Williams early on May 24 and drove to Myrtle Beach.

"They were having a party," Simmons said. "I just think they happened to have a party in the wrong place."

The gang link

The Myrtle Beach Police Department has given few details about what occurred that night.

Keith Williams was hit first. With damage to his lungs and liver, he remained in critical condition late last week and had not regained consciousness.

Jamie Williams, Dantzler and Barnwell were slain on a motel balcony. Green and Molefi Atone Johnson, 21, another music performer from Lincolnville, avoided injury.

Green, who could not be reached for comment, was arrested on a charge of felon possessing a firearm and Johnson on a count of disorderly conduct. But their charges were not directly related to the gunfire, the police have said.

Capt. David Knipes, a police spokesman, said investigators still needed the public's help in identifying suspects. He declined to say what prompted them to implicate gang activity in a report.

Lowcountry gangs tend to be loosely knit neighborhood groups, said Watson, the Charleston County sheriff's major. They lack the leadership hierarchy typical of notorious gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips. But the groups still can be problematic.

In July, after a hip-hop concert in downtown Charleston, Summerville-based "Summa Town Bound" was said to have run into "West Cash," a West Ashley group considered a gang by the FBI. Don'ta Pringle, 22, of Summa Town Bound was fatally shot.

Last month, nightclub operators on James Island said a dispute between the "Beach Gang" and "Down the Island," another gang on the FBI's list, led to the slaying of NFL wide receiver Roddy White's brother.

"From Johns Island and James Island, to North Charleston, to Lincolnville," Watson said, "those smaller gangs tend to give us the bigger problems."

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.