Sleep-deprived, Kathleen Russell went to bed early Saturday night, but she would be in for one of the rudest awakenings she has ever experienced in downtown Charleston.
She heard shouting outside her Warren Street house and figured that drunken college students were raising trouble again.
Russell ventured out around 12:30 a.m. Sunday and instead saw about 15 teenagers raising a ruckus and “making as much noise as possible,” she said. When she urged them to quiet down, they turned their wrath on her. They taunted her. A boy knocked her cellphone from her hands. A girl took off her belt and threatened to beat Russell with it.
The encounter unfolded in seconds, but Russell’s experience was the beginning of a tear that lasted more than an hour as the roaming teens caused havoc up and down the Coming Street area.
“They were all very mean,” she said. “They were a swarm of bees who stayed together ... from one street to the next. ... They were so completely absent of any kind of manners. There was like an agenda to cause chaos.”
Russell was one of many people confronted and, in several other cases, attacked by packs of juveniles leaving a birthday party at the Coming Street YWCA. Officers from the Charleston Police Department at times were responding to so many calls that they had to prioritize them and not take some reports until two days later. As they tried to gather information from assault victims and bystanders, dispatchers gave them more calls to deal with, police spokesman Charles Francis said Monday.
Unlike the Medical University of South Carolina, which sent electronic messages warning of the criminal activity afoot, the department did not issue a public alert to residents.
“Officers were already in the area dealing with the situation,” Francis said. “Other officers were saturating the area to prevent additional incidents.”
In all, the police were dispatched to 11 calls about disturbances on the Charleston peninsula from around midnight to 2 a.m. Sunday, according to county records, though it was not clear how many were linked to the group.
The officers wrote reports for three assaults, a purse snatching and a robbery. Investigators later arrested one person linked to an attack, but Francis refused to name the suspect because detectives were trying to determine whether he was involved in the others.
The teens’ march through the city started with the party at the YWCA a block from Russell’s home. The three-hour party ended around 12:30 a.m. Sunday, when the teens left and broke off into groups, according to a police report.
Garcia Williams, the YWCA’s interim director, said the people who rented the venue had hired security. She did not immediately have further details or know “exactly what took place,” she said Monday.
One of the young revelers said someone came up from behind him, jabbed a hard object into the back of his head and threatened to “pull this trigger” if he didn’t empty his pockets, the report stated. Someone else then picked him up and slammed him to the ground. Others kicked and punched him. Someone took his phone, but a girl later returned it, he told the police.
The boy didn’t tell the authorities about the robbery until Monday, when his mother brought him to a police station.
He had stayed on the streets as the teens continued their escapades. Five men at Coming and Vanderhorst streets told the police that the teens attacked them around 12:50 a.m. Sunday.
Hannah Rogers, a College of Charleston student who lives in the neighborhood, noticed that 20 to 30 teens had amassed outside her apartment building. She snapped pictures of them. Rogers saw them block the intersection.
“They were just trying to be obnoxious,” Rogers said. “When they started to hit people, it became more of a problem.”
Rogers dialed 911. She later photographed a puddle of blood left by one of the men who was attacked.
Police officials have said, though, that nobody in that assault or any others was seriously hurt. All of the victims were treated in the field, Francis said.
The next victim, Domino’s driver Thomas Person, was delivering food around 1:15 a.m., when he encountered two of the teens in the middle of Sumter Street near Rutledge Avenue, according to a report. One boy hopped up on the hood of his new car and jumped up and down, he told the police. When he got out to stop the youth from further damaging the car, 10 more people came and started punching him through his open door, he said.
Person’s sister would later set up a GoFundMe online fundraising effort to collect $500 for repairs.
By 1:50 a.m., the police were so overwhelmed that they didn’t take a report from the resident who was attacked next near Coming and Sumter streets. Investigators followed up with the resident Monday and wrote the report, he said. The man requested anonymity because he feared that the teens also would follow up with him.
Francis said the officer should have responded after the activity waned.
“There was a period of time when numerous calls were received and officers were prioritizing their response based on the incidents reported,” Francis said. “Due to the officer dealing with this situation, he didn’t return.”
It had been about two years since college-age people streaming from downtown bars have stirred up trouble in Russell’s Radcliffeborough neighborhood. Police patrols have tempered that problem.
That’s why it was odd to hear the commotion late Saturday, she said.
Russell, 63, sees herself as a rather feisty woman, and when she confronted the bunch, she acknowledged being a little irritated at the youngsters for ruining what could have been a restful night.
“I was as mad as heck,” she said. “You just shouldn’t mess with me like that.”
Russell told them that she just wanted to talk, to find out why the teens felt the need to interrupt her sleep.
“That provoked the worst thing,” she said. “They started screaming and yelling at me. ... That wasn’t their goal to have a dialogue.”
She heard curses and a racial slur. One teen used an expletive and a reference to her race. Members of the group were black, she said; she is white. But the language didn’t faze her.
“I tend to put my fingers in my ears and go, ‘La-la-la,’” she said.
Russell tried to record the group, but one teen grabbed her arm, dislodging her phone from her grasp.
The herd soon jogged down the street. An area resident’s surveillance camera captured some of them milling about and shouting around the time of Russell’s face-off. Police cars with flashing blue lights traveled down the street. Officers walked through the neighborhood, too. Russell heard sirens.
But teens were quick, she said. They shifted directions rapidly.
“It was chaos,” she said.
She followed the group for a while before retreating on a circuitous route back to her house. She feared that some might follow her home. Later reflecting on the night, Russell thinks the experience created a chance for community leaders to sit down with youngsters and find out what had angered them so much.
“It’s an opportunity,” she said, “to have some kind of activity where there could be that dialogue, to bridge the gap for peace.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.