When North Charleston Police Chief Reggie Burgess responded to a Friday night "deceased person" call at a CSX property on Bennett Yard Road, it was clear to him that the body on the tracks belonged to a young person.
Burgess later learned the man, Vaughn McFadden, was only 18. McFadden lived in the Dorchester-Waylyn neighborhood and played football for North Charleston High School's Cougars.
McFadden's death — the city's second homicide this year — caused the newly minted police chief to toss and turn all weekend.
"When I was 18 years old — in 1984 — I was going to college, I was going to be playing football for four more years," Burgess said. "I sat back and I looked at that young man, and said, 'He doesn't even have an opportunity.' Why? It's senseless."
On Monday, Burgess felt that he had to do more than sit in his office at North Charleston City Hall. He told Mayor Keith Summey that the violence wasn't happening in the office; it was happening in the streets, and that's where he needed to be.
He walked along Dorchester Road, a few blocks south of McFadden's slaying, in a yellow traffic vest with a sign reading, "Stop the Violence." Several civic and religious leaders joined Burgess during a second march on Wednesday. They held signs and circled a block on the busy street three times. Drivers honked, waved and signaled support with their thumbs up.
Tomelex Copeland, 36, carried McFadden's white and gold North Charleston High football jersey — No. 70.
Copeland, an assistant football coach at North Charleston High, said McFadden was the third player of his to die in the past three years from gun violence. He said he's not sure what the right answer is, but marching with the city's police chief is a start.
"Monday at school sucked, but they're doing OK," he said of his players. "As OK as they can be."
North Charleston has seen its most violent stretch on record in recent years, racking up 110 homicides since 2014, according to The Post and Courier’s homicide database. With 35 slayings, 2017 was the deadliest in the city’s 45-year history.
In the same period, though, officers have pulled back from making the frequent traffic stops that critics said were unfairly affecting impoverished black communities. Officials and community advocates have wrangled with finding a balanced approach that fights crime without alienating certain residents.
Burgess said that he doesn’t know if marching will be effective, but he hoped it would show the community that the police care. He chose to march along Dorchester Road because that's where a majority of community members would see his sign.
“Everything we do should be geared toward the community," he said.
Pastors and ministers who marched with Burgess on Wednesday said they wanted the police chief to know that clergy members support his efforts to quell the violence. Restoration Holiness Church Pastor Michelle Smalls' cousin was fatally shot 15 years ago. As a religious leader, Smalls says she tries to be "straight up" with her congregants about the city's violence.
"Guns do not kill people," she tells them on Sundays. "The bullet does not have a name unless you let it out of that chamber. ... We need to get our young men off the streets."
When Burgess was sworn in as police chief in January, he spoke about how gun violence had affected his life. In 2010, his nephew Angelo Maurice President was killed at age 31.
Tessie Bush, President's mother, joined the march Wednesday. Bush, of Union Heights, said it was her first time participating in any sort of activism since the year her son died.
"Me coming out today was really important," she said. "It's not getting better. It's getting worse. Murderers are walking in the streets every day."
Nearly eight years later, police do not have any suspects in her son's slaying.
"I don't know if it was a beef. I don't know if it was a squabble. I don't know if it was a conflict or whatever," Burgess said of McFadden's murder. "But it wasn't necessary to kill him."