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North Charleston records 33 homicides, making 2017 deadliest year in city's history

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Brittany Gadsden doesn’t feel safe letting her 5-year-old son play outside in the Charleston Farms neighborhood where she lives.

Crime hasn’t directly touched her family at their North Charleston home, but the worry of stray bullets keeps them indoors most of the time. Just last week, Gadsden heard gunshots during the daytime.

Then early Thursday, police found a man stabbed to death in an apartment not far from her home on Torgerson Avenue. Police said the suspect, 20-year-old Denardo Felder, was arrested and charged with murder and weapon possession.

"We’ll see police drive down our street," Gadsden said, "and we’ll be like ‘Oh, what now?’ because it’s always something."

The fatal stabbing brought North Charleston to 33 homicides so far this year, making 2017 the deadliest year on record for the city.

If this pace of killings persists, the city could cap 2017 with around 40 deaths and a homicide rate of 36.45 per 100,000 residents.

That’s troubling to people who live in the neighborhoods most frequently affected by deadly violence on the city’s southern end.

"When you hear a gunshot every single night for weeks on end, it is difficult to live with. You hear someone’s car backfiring and you jump," said Rebecca Rushton, president of the Chicora-Cherokee Neighborhood Association. "How do you make it stop?"

Mayor Keith Summey and North Charleston police officials did not respond to multiple requests for interviews for this story.

City Councilman Bob King, whose district includes the Charleston Farms community where the latest homicide happened, said Summey is "very concerned" about the upward trend in killings.

King said police should continue to concentrate on recruiting minority candidates, building strong relationships with the community and engaging youths before they turn to crime. He also called on the community to get involved. 

Like last year, when the city set a record with 32 homicides, King and others continue to ask how young people are getting their hands on illegal guns.

"That’s a question that nobody's been able to answer so far," he said.

Numbers provided by the department show police have already taken more guns off the streets in 2017 compared with recent years. By the end of September, officers had seized 349 firearms that were logged into evidence. Police confiscated 342 guns in 2016, 340 in 2015 and 347 in 2014.

"They’re pulling guns and they’re arresting people, but at the end of the day I wish I had the answer," said City Councilman Mike Brown.

Brown said he and others have gone into communities with hopes of reaching people before the toll of poverty, drugs or anger provokes them to take another person's life. He said he feels for grieving parents who are left with the task of burying their children.

This week, The Post and Courier published stories illustrating how violence has affected residents in North Charleston's Dorchester Waylyn and Dorchester Terrace neighborhoods, where a quarter of this year's killings happened.

To Rushton, frightened residents in her Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood are further proof that the impact of violence extends well beyond the relatives of victims and suspects. Some residents feel helpless because they can’t afford to move out when crime becomes a problem, so the most they can do is stay vigilant. Rushton and her neighbors have a text message chain to check on one another after they hear gunshots.

"It’s difficult being a citizen and not having control over keeping your neighborhood safe," she said.

Dave Crane, president of the Charleston Farms Neighborhood Council, knows some longtime, elderly residents in his area are also scared. It can be a challenge to convince them to report shootings and other crimes to police because they're afraid of retaliation. 

"It gets dark at night and you hear people going up and down the street and see a blue light go by and hear sirens in the distance," Crane said. "We try to get people involved, but most of them want to shut their doors when it gets dark and close their curtains."

Reach Angie Jackson at 843-937-5705. Follow her on Twitter at @angiejackson23. 

Angie Jackson covers crime and breaking news for The Post and Courier. She previously covered the same beat for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive.com in Michigan. When she’s not reporting, Angie enjoys teaching yoga and exploring the outdoors.