Teen trying to protect sister is shot, killed

Keith Graham Jr., 18, of Summerville, pictured in the center with his family, was killed Sunday after being shot in a hotel elevator while trying to leave a party where a fight broke out. Police say one person is in custody after the shooting.

A Summerville teen who was shot in a hotel elevator early Sunday died protecting his sister, their father said.

“That’s what he always did,” said Keith Edwin Graham Sr., of his son, Keith Graham Jr. “He was always protecting her even though he was younger.”

The 18-year-old went with his 19-year-old sister to a “kick-back party,” or a party in a hotel room, at the Econo Lodge on Holiday Drive, Graham said. Their father said an altercation broke out between the teen’s sister and two guys after a threatening comment was made, so they decided to head to the elevator and leave.

The two guys were trying to push their way into the elevator and Graham jumped in front of his sister to try to get them out when one of them shot him in the chest, according to his father.

Berkeley County Coroner Bill Salisbury confirmed Sunday that Graham was shot about 1:30 a.m. in the elevator of the Summerville hotel and that he was trying to leave a party after a fight broke out. He died at Trident Medical Center.

Capt. Jon Rogers of the Summerville Police Department said police are still investigating the shooting but that one person is in custody. He refused to identify that person or say what he or she is charged with until Monday. He also would not release any further details about the shooting.

An autopsy will be performed Monday, according to Salisbury. The Coroner’s Office is assisting in the investigation.

Graham and his wife, Dreame Rorie, said Sunday night that their daughter was shaken up after what happened and that their family is still in shock and disbelief.

“I never thought I would be in a position where I would be burying my son; I thought he’d be burying me,” Graham said. “I don’t think we’ve fully come to terms that our only son, our baby boy, is dead. It’s the worst thing that any parent could ever face.”

Rorie said all her son did “all his life was protect his sisters.” It was unusual that he would go out on a Saturday night because he liked to be at home playing video games, but he wanted to have a little fun with his sister, his family said.

“He’s a wonderful young man, very respectful,” she said. “They took my angel.”

Graham was born in Charleston, but grew up in Summerville. He was set to graduate this year from Summerville High School, where his father said he was well-liked among his peers and teachers.

“They all loved him,” he said, adding that his son had good grades, enjoyed school and stayed out of trouble. “He always liked to laugh and he always had a smile on his face. He was just a beautiful young man.”

Tom Powell taught Graham biology at Summerville High School two years ago. He described him as intelligent, friendly and helpful and as always having a smile on his face.

“Every teacher wanted a classroom full of Keiths,” he added.

Powell retired in June. He said his heart sank when he heard the news Sunday of Graham’s death and that he is still shocked.

“I just thought, ‘Oh no, please, no,’” he said. “I cannot say enough good things about Keith. It’s very, very sad.”

Several of Graham’s classmates described him as funny, caring and friends with everyone. They said he was encouraging and cheerful and would do anything for anyone.

“He was basically an angel that God sent here to bring us all together,” said Gregory “Bubba” Cox. “Everyone who knew him loved him to death.”

Another classmate, Vincent Black, said he was devastated when he found out what happened to his good friend.

“It really hurts,” he said. “Overall, he was just such a great person. I’m going to miss him.”

Graham’s friends and family said his greatest passion in life was dancing, mostly hip-hop and break dancing.

“He loved to dance more than anything else,” Graham said of his son. “I never had rhythm but he always did.”

He said he saw his son for the last time just hours before he was killed. They talked about the new Fantastic Four movie trailer — Graham had just seen it and his son teased him because he had already seen it months before.

“It’s still unbelievable; it’s like a dream,” Graham said. “I’m still waiting for someone to wake me up.”

Rorie said the gun violence in the Lowcountry is getting out of control. She said all kids “know how to do anymore is shoot and kill.”

Over the past decade and a half, 68 black youths in the greater Charleston area have been shot to death, according to The Post and Courier’s homicide database.

More staggering is the number of black children and adult teenagers alleged to have had a hand in murders here: 106.

Blacks in this age group, 19 and younger, accounted for one of every 10 homicide victims and one of every five murder suspects.

“Something needs to be done,” Rorie said. “This has got to stop.”

Graham’s aunt, Elvira Brisbon of Moncks Corner, said her nephew was not supposed to become part of those statistics.

“Our kids don’t have guns, they don’t do drugs,” she said. “He was such a great kid. He was not a bad boy. Respectful, young, black males do not come often.”

She described Graham as her second son and said he was like a brother to her son. She said he was family-oriented and came from a good household with strong values.

“Most young men don’t even hug their mothers. He wasn’t like that,” she said just before she broke into a sob. “And he’s gone because some stupid punk who doesn’t understand whose life he took.”

The family said they are leaning on each other for support as they try to understand what happened. Brisbon and Rorie said they have to believe that it was God’s plan for Graham to be with his sister as her protector that night.

“A man protects his family and that’s what he was trying to do,” Brisbon cried.

Reach Melissa Boughton at 937-5594 or at Twitter.com/mboughtonPC.