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Search for killer of 5-year-old Summerville girl continues, 3 months after her death

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SUMMERVILLE — The gleeful cries of two children playing on bicycles sounded over the words of a woman standing nearby reminiscing about another child, much younger, who no longer could be heard.

“She was so sweet,” Cindy LaCava said just a few feet away from a boarded-up townhome, still marked by bullets. "It hurts my heart."

It has been three months since Italia Lomelli-Graham, 5, was shot inside her home in this suburban town of more than 50,000 residents about a half-hour northwest of Charleston. So far, police have not arrested anyone in her death, which still haunted residents on a recent afternoon.

“I’m getting out of this,” said a man who declined to give his name as he prepared to move that day. The man said he used to see Italia ride a bike in front of her home. Her death was one of the reasons he decided to leave the neighborhood, he said.

Still, he remained optimistic: “They’re going to eventually get to the bottom of it,” he said.

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Cindy LaCava reminisces about seeing 5-year-old Italia Lomelli-Graham play in front of her home in the Evergreen subdivision in Summerville. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

That’s been the hope of the police officers, community leaders and others who have descended on the subdivision, called Evergreen, in the days and weeks after Italia’s death. They sang and clutched votive candles, knocked on doors and pleaded for anyone with information about who killed the young girl to come forward.

“There are people in this area — in this neighborhood and around — that know exactly (what) happened to Italia that night and who’s responsible,” Summerville Police Chief Jon Rogers said in a news conference outside the home where Italia was shot. “And they need to stand up. And they need to speak out. And they need to contact us.”

Police believe Italia was an innocent victim of a shooting about 10 p.m. on Aug. 6. That night, a Thursday, a Summerville officer heard roughly seven or eight gunshots before a dispatcher told him a girl was wounded in the head at a nearby home, according to a police report.

When that officer arrived at the home he saw Italia bleeding in a hallway as another officer, family members and, later, paramedics tried to keep her alive. She died soon after at a nearby hospital.

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Bullet holes can be see in the window of the home where 5-year-old Italia Lomelli-Graham was shot in Summerville on Aug. 6, 2020. Gavin McIntyre/ Staff

Since then, people have shared tips with Summerville police. But the information gathered hasn’t been enough for officers to make an arrest, said Lt. Chris Hirsch, who oversees the department's criminal investigations division. 

Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are aiding the department in its investigation. They are helping to analyze evidence and conduct interviews, Hirsch said. The federal agency has also chipped in $10,000 as a reward for anyone who shares information that leads to a conviction.   

An officer in an unmarked vehicle drove through the neighborhood on a recent day, past the subdivision's tightly packed townhomes, some of which, like Italia's home, were also boarded up.

Residents were leery about talking to a reporter, but some speculated on the cause of the shooting, suggesting gangs, drugs or a festering dispute sparked the violence.  

Hirsch said officers haven’t identified a motive for why someone targeted the home.

“We’ve got our theories but they’re only theories,” he said.

Pastor Thomas Ravenell, founder of Parents Against Gun Violence Charleston, has handed out flyers in the subdivision urging residents to speak with police. 

“We’re going to keep her name out there,” he said. “We have not given up.”

The sounds of gunshots have ricocheted in Evergreen before, with at least one bullet leading to another death.

In February of 2017, police found the body of Lewis Hay Frampton IV, 27, a few hundred feet from Italia’s home. Another man, who was shot but survived, told police he was outside when “someone just started shooting,” The Post and Courier reported at the time. Two men were later arrested, according to a police report. 

Debbie Shuford lives a short walk away from where that gunfire, and the shooting that killed Italia, took place.

Four or five years ago, Shuford said, someone shot through a window in her home while she and her husband were at church.

“It’s horrible when your children can’t play here safety,” she said.

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Friends and family place candles and roses outside of a home to mourn 5-year-old Italia Lomelli-Graham on Aug. 11, 2020. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Along with neighbors, Italia's death has also impacted Summerville detectives, Hirsch, the police lieutenant, said. Some have children of their own. 

Italia would have turned 6 on Oct. 6. 

“No one deserves this and especially not a child,” said Hirsch, later adding that investigators are working on the case day and night.

Children have been inadvertent victims of violence in the Charleston region in the past, sparking outrage and high-profile pleas for justice. But even when rewards were offered, that didn’t always guarantee an arrest or conviction.

In October 2011, 5-year-old Allison Griffor died after being hit by a shotgun blast during an early morning home invasion in West Ashley. Despite impassioned calls for help, and an indication that a potential suspect had been identified, no one was ever charged in her killing.

People in the Lowcountry were likewise stunned in January 2006 when a bullet pierced a window in Robert Bailey's North Charleston home, striking the 11-year-old in the chest and killing him. Police arrested a 16-year-old on a murder charge, but the case was later set aside by prosecutors for lack of evidence.

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Police officers work in the Evergreen subdivision after the killing of 5-year-old Italia Lomelli-Graham on Aug. 6, 2020. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

Back outside the home where Italia was shot, reminders of her shortened life remained.

Tape covered bullet holes in a window. To the right sat a bicycle, made for a small child.

A sign was placed in the front yard. It had her name, photo, and the question: Do you know who murdered me?

Glenn Smith contributed to this report. 

Reach Stephen Hobbs at 843-937-5428. Follow him on Twitter @bystephenhobbs.

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