Family members huddled and prayed Friday outside the Niagara Street home in North Charleston where 52-year-old Janet Royal was fatally shot.
Elder James Johnson, a police chaplain and community activist, had called a press conference in front of the house in the afternoon to ask for the public's help in acquiring tips about the crime. When he saw family members arrive at the home, he offered to lead them in prayer.
"It's a sad occasion for this family," he said.
Johnson said he wants reinforcements called in to help solve the killing of Royal, the shooting death of another woman and shooting of a third woman. All occurred on New Year's Day less than two miles from each other. All three women were inside their houses, shot from the outside, according to police. Knocks at the door were heard at two of the homes before the gunfire rang out, police said.
Debra Randall Martin, 49, of Ventura Drive was shot and killed at 7 p.m. Wednesday while she was inside her home. Sabrina Green 41, of Aintree Avenue, was shot at 5 a.m. and hospitalized. Her condition remains unknown. Royal was shot at around 5 a.m. at the Niagara Street house and died later in a hospital.
Police have not identified any suspects or made any arrests. North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said there were no new developments in the case to report Friday and police have not yet determined if the three shootings are connected.
Johnson said he's asked the State Law Enforcement Division to get involved in the investigation.
"Due to the seriousness of this crime, we're asking SLED to investigate," Johnson said. "We're not trying to undermine North Charleston. We don't take this lightly. Three people were shot in less than 24 hours. We don't want more death in North Charleston."
Pryor said police are already calling upon SLED as needed and the state agency has been providing assistance, including ballistics testing of the bullets used in the shootings.
Johnson, leader of the local National Action Network, said his group met with North Charleston Police on Thursday, but they offered no information about the investigation.
Police have said they don't believe the shootings are targeted acts of violence toward women, which Johnson agrees with.
"I don't think they're targeting women because all three were shot through the door," Johnson said. "If a little child was behind the door, they would have been shot."
Johnson and other community activists said they hope tips from the community will come in to police.
"If the public is not angry enough about this to call in tips, then it's turning over the streets to the wrong-doers," said Pastor Thomas Dixson, leader of the coalition People United to Take Back Our Community.
Pryor said detectives have been getting helpful information from the community and they hope that continues.
"That's what it's going to take to crack this thing," he said.
Johnson and other community members said they will hold a candlelight vigil on Saturday at a nearby park. They hope family members of homicide victims will join them to share their testimonies, in hopes their hurt will change the "hearts of the heartless," Dixson said.
In the Ventura Drive home, Martin was found unresponsive on the living room floor inside the home, according to police. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Coroner's officials said she died of a gunshot wound to the back.
Spent cartridges were found in the front yard, Pryor said, and it appears the front of the house was struck by bullets.
Green was wounded around 5 a.m. on Aintree Avenue in the Dorchester Terrace subdivision. Officers found her 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.
Also around 5 a.m., police responded to the 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.
Royal'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 family offered no comments Friday. Outside their home, strings of Christmas lights were still hung on the house and gate. A woman, who did not want to be identified, shed tears as she looked at the home.
She and Royal grew up together in downtown Charleston, she said. The woman described Royal as quiet and funny. Her daughter now lives near Royal's home and the families saw each other on Christmas.
"I just can't believe it," she said. "It's so hurtful."
Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.