Billy Schilling and his wife were enjoying a rare date night Saturday in Charleston - their first since the Bluffton couple's son was born seven months ago.
To offer tips
People with information about the attack early Sunday morning on Billy Schilling should call county dispatchers at 843-743-7200 and ask for the on-call Charleston police detective. Those wishing to remain anonymous and be eligible for an award should contact Crime Stoppers at 843-554-1111. Family members said they have increased the typical Crime Stoppers award from $1,000 to $5,000 for information leading to the assailant's conviction.
They saw Hootie & the Blowfish on Daniel Island and had a few drinks on Upper King Street.
But on the way back to their hotel, someone hurled a crude remark at Schilling's wife, a family member said. Schilling, 26, took offense, but the man walked up to him as if to apologize.
Instead, the stranger punched Schilling's face, and he fell outside a beauty salon at 455 King St. His head hit the sidewalk, cracking his skull and knocking him out.
The attack came a block from a similar sucker punch that killed a man earlier this year, and it happened in an entertainment district where the Charleston Police Department has increased patrols to fight alcohol-related crimes and nuisances.
Schilling's ordeal prompted an outcry Tuesday from his family, who asked for the community's help in finding his assailant.
"He doesn't have a mean bone in his body," his father-in-law, Scott Kirkpatrick of Chapin, said. "This was not a confrontation, fight, disagreement or anything of the sort. ... That guy just crushed him, and Billy is lucky to be alive."
Schilling faces a months-long recovery that could put him out of work during a crucial time for his young family. He holds three jobs as a personal trainer, a boat captain and a liquor distributor.
His family Tuesday announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to a conviction. Schilling's attacker and the three men authorities said were with him managed to avoid capture by responding police officers.
Detectives canvassed nearby businesses for surveillance cameras that might have depicted a suspect, described as a 6-foot to 6-foot-4-inch white man with a stocky build and short light-brown hair. Schilling's wife told the police that the man, clad in a polo shirt and khaki shorts at the time, looked like a football linebacker.
Police spokesman Charles Francis said the investigators were still considering exactly why the man punched Schilling. One witness not involved with the incident said he saw the man hit Schilling and flee, according to an incident report. Any words exchanged between the two, though, had not been confirmed.
In the similar instance in April, the police said a joke might have sparked an argument between some men and the group of friends that Clinton Thomas Seymour, 27, was with.
Outside 515 King St., a tenth of a mile from Sunday's scene, someone punched Seymour once. He hit the sidewalk and died of a head injury. It was the city's first of five homicides this year. A 24-year-old Mount Pleasant man faces an involuntary manslaughter charge in the death.
Francis said the attacks downtown pose a different challenge because of the large number of patrons in a concentrated area and the potential for small disagreements to escalate.
"We are working with nightlife venues to help us spot potential problems so early intervention can take place," he said. "The department continuously looks for ways to enhance safety and security downtown to prevent injuries and to keep citizens and visitors safe and will continue these efforts."
The attack on Schilling disturbed his family, loved ones said.
The accomplished lacrosse player and his 25-year-old wife, Ashley, graduated four years ago from Presbyterian College in the Upstate and got married the next year. Their first child was born earlier this year.
With a relative watching the boy last weekend, the couple planned a getaway to Charleston, where they listened to Darius Rucker's rock band Saturday night.
Around 12:45 a.m. Sunday, they were walking with two friends along King Street when they passed four men, according to the police report.
Kirkpatrick, Ashley Schilling's father who said he had talked with his daughter and others who were there, said one of the men made a "disparaging" comment about the woman. Her husband replied that the remark was "uncalled for," Kirkpatrick said.
The young couple didn't regard the man as a threat as he walked up to Schilling, Kirkpatrick said.
"It was so unassuming," Kirkpatrick said. "They thought the guy was going to have a discussion with Billy or apologize. But one hit just knocked him down."
One of Schilling's friends followed the attacker toward Warren Street and dialed 911. He eventually peeled off the man's trail, wary that the stranger would turn on him, according to Kirkpatrick.
A bystander flagged down a patrolman in the area populated by bars and restaurants and said a man had been knocked unconscious, the report stated. Blood was coming from Schilling's mouth, ears and nose, but he was awake before paramedics arrived.
When he opened his eyes, according to Kirkpatrick, Schilling saw blood on his wife's clothes and worried that she was hurt. Schilling learned that he was injured, but he couldn't remember what happened, his father-in-law said.
Doctors at Medical University Hospital found no bleeding on his brain, Kirkpatrick said. He left the hospital Sunday night and was resting Tuesday at home. Family members don't know how long his recovery will take.
"Ashley isn't mad; she's just in shock," Kirkpatrick, a former law enforcement officer, said of his daughter. "But I want them to find this guy in the worst way."
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.