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To solve Ariel Morgan's shooting death, family and authorities appeal to 'somebody somewhere'

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To solve Ariel Morgan's shooting death, family and authorities appeal to 'somebody somewhere'

Kendra Morgan-Stevens, 44 (left), celebrates Mothers Day with her daughter, Ariel Morgan, 19, a month before Morgan was fatally shot June 7 at a block party near Moncks Corner.

Because Ariel Morgan was with nearly 800 people at a block party when a gunfight broke out there, detectives know someone must have seen who was shooting before a bullet hit the 19-year-old college student.

But no one since the June 7 ordeal near Moncks Corner has told the authorities enough about what happened, confounding the investigators who have made no arrests in her death.

It might be because the shooting, which wounded five other people, stemmed from a dispute between rival gang members notorious for pressuring witnesses not to talk with the police, according to the Berkeley County Sheriff's Office.

That angle to the case led sheriff's deputies to recently seek help from State Law Enforcement Division agents who specialize in investigating gang activity. It's the latest development in Morgan's unsolved homicide in which silence spawned her family's fundraising push to increase a reward for tips about her killer.

Two agents from SLED, which maintains a database of known gang members and tracks the groups, will complement a team of sheriff's detectives working on Morgan's death. Capt. Bobby Shuler, the sheriff's chief homicide investigator, declined to delve into the shooting's gang implications or to say why they suspect such involvement.

"We haven't had anyone give us an exact reason for what happened out there," Shuler said. "It's a very problematic case when it comes to getting those people to come forward."

Complete with hip-hop performers and a cover charge, the party on Tish Lane in the Longridge community had been advertised on Facebook and Twitter as the biggest of the summer. Its organizer, Donald Lamont Richardson Jr., 23, a college student whose family owns the host's home, said security guards would be there, but sheriff's officials said those plans fell through at the last minute.

Around 12:30 a.m. that Saturday, at least a half-dozen firearms exchanged fire. Morgan, who wasn't involved in the dispute that led to the shots, got caught in it.

Before her death, Morgan's posts on social media bemoaned gun violence and foreshadowed that night's events, a wrinkle that grabbed national interest. As the weeks went by, though, the attention on her death waned.

Her posts still haunt her mother, Kendra Morgan-Stevens of Moncks Corner.

Morgan-Stevens, 44, thinks of her daughter every second.

The thoughts of what could have been for her daughter distract her from her job at a local Navy facility.

Morgan won't see her 14-year-old brother play football during his freshman year in high school. One of their last photographs together was taken at his eighth-grade graduation a week before her death.

Morgan won't be going back to Francis Marion University, where she was studying to be a pediatric nurse.

Her mother's thoughts about those times sometime physically sicken her.

"She should be at college right now," Morgan-Stevens said. "All her friends left two weeks ago. The hardest thing was watching them go to college and knowing she's not with them because of some stupidity."

Morgan-Stevens and her loved ones organized a dinner party Sept. 13 at the Arabian Temple in North Charleston to raise money for an increased reward. Their goal is to raise the typical Crime Stoppers reward from $1,000 to $5,000 or $10,000.

The effort already has generated nearly $1,500 through two other fundraisers.

The latest "evening of awareness" event will include musicians, comedians and speakers such as Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, who has railed against a culture that leads to violence between youths.

Gilliard said he was particularly moved by the story of Morgan, a young woman who decried that violence and shied away from it only to have her life ended by it. Like Morgan's mother, he longs to see the crime solved.

"Somebody somewhere knows something," Gilliard said. "Their conscience should be bothering them. ... The only way they can stop their own people from dying is to turn in these people. Criminals aren't going to stop doing what they're doing."

Shuler, the sheriff's captain, said events such as the one planned in mid-September have prompted fresh tips in the homicide investigation.

Detectives chased down each clue they fielded or uncovered, he said, but none led to solid information. Some people came forward, Shuler explained, because they heard rumors on Facebook or received secondhand information.

An increased reward could help or hurt that effort, he cautioned.

"Money is always appealing to some people, but we have to be careful," he said. "It can motivate people to come forward on something that's nothing. ... It can lead law enforcement completely down the wrong trail."

Solving the case has been a focus for the Sheriff's Office, Shuler said, so it summoned the state for more help.

SLED spokesman Thom Berry said agents often train local law officers on how to use the statewide gang database. Their work in the Walterboro area led to 20 indictments of suspected gang members four years ago, when communities there were struggling with violent crime.

"We provide assistance and information to local agencies in investigations related to gang issues," Berry said. "But it would inappropriate to discuss specific details about what we may do in any one investigation."

Morgan-Stevens wants to do whatever it takes.

She won't stop raising money or calling news conferences or creating fliers and asking for tips until her daughter's killer is behind bars, she said.

"But it's very frustrating," she acknowledged. "Just knowing she's not here is frustrating."

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or

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