What better way to enjoy spring break than lounging on a beach at Isle of Palms in South Carolina, soaking up the sun, cooling off in the ocean from the 80-degree temps and spending quality time with family?
Is the picture firmly in mind? Now look over to the pier and see a throng of people. They must have just gotten off a bus to see the sights. After a beautiful, balmy day, it’s time to go take a shower to wash off all the warm, clingy sand.
Just another typical vacation down south, right? That’s what Melanie Domes thought. She and her 10-year-old daughter had gone there to visit a cousin, and two days in, all was well. They had finished their shower and headed down the street.
After that point, Domes’ vacation paradise changed drastically. During the shower, a nearby restaurant’s music masked the sounds of gunfire. Those throngs of people were kids on a senior skip day, and fights had broken out.
“We casually walked out to the street where there were cop cars coming from all directions, sirens and horns blaring. We moved out of the way for the truck thinking someone must have been hurt on the beach. We then continued to walk to my vehicle, parked across and down the street. As I looked up, hundreds — 400, 500, plus gangster people, came running in our direction. I became very scared, I had no idea what this mass confusion was going on. I first thought to get to the car quick but the screaming and fighting were between us and the car,” Domes said Tuesday to The Batavian.
“A mass of kids came running at us. I was in complete fear; I thought, ‘Are they running to something, or are they running from something?’ I looked around for shelter, and I saw a Dumpster, and thought do we hide in there? I then saw a cop car a few feet in front of us … I really didn't know what these crowds of angry kids wanted.”
The threesome stood next to a police car as Domes scanned the area for viable shelter. They saw a shop owner locking her doors, and “I begged her to please let us come in,” Domes said.
“The tears of horror, I think, was what allowed us to stay. We had to hide behind boxes and clothing and away from the windows,” Domes, a school teacher from Attica, said. “The lady ‘grandma’ and the girl were so kind to us, she kept us updated on what was going on. Six people were shot, and others injured. We stayed in lockdown for over an hour, watching through the cracks of them running like crazy and cops chasing them. Some pounding on the door. We did try to get to the car and have to turn back and take cover again because it was chaos.”
Eventually, the store owner, known as “grandma,” led them safely to their vehicle so that they could leave the island. Meanwhile, they encountered kids screaming threats and cursing as Domes clung to her daughter more tightly. Her cousin drove them back; however, the bridge was shut down, making the trip longer for everyone to get off the island, Domes said.
What she hadn’t known at the time was that many others had been hiding as well, one woman and her baby were behind a bush, and others were in a bathroom or holed up in people’s homes.
“I’m a teacher, and the sad thing is, we’ve been practicing for this stuff. I never thought I’d ever have it happen to me, or to my daughter,” she said, pausing for a few emotional moments. “I just thank the Lord that I was with her. So many times, kids wander off at the beach, and that place is such a safe place, I wouldn’t have thought twice about letting her go get an ice cream. I’m still shocked. I broke down several times today.”
Her daughter is also, obviously, upset about the incident — or, more bluntly put — the mass shooting, yet another. Domes is an advocate for having a gun permit and having the ability to protect oneself in situations like this one. The problem is that not all states allow for that, she said.
Her parents taught her to look for an out when learning to drive. If something blocks the path, look to see where you can move to avoid a crash. She has adapted that to other scenarios and believes she tried to do that during the shooting, to look for shelter instead of just having one plan of going to her vehicle.
Another lesson is to “always be aware of your surroundings,” she said.
Even though there were several police officers present, they were focused on the chaos and fights, she said, and not available to help other citizens. It took three hours to get it all under control, she said.
“This experience was horrifying,” she said. “I never thought I would be put in a situation like this. I was beyond grateful I was with my cousin and the lady of the store let us in.”
According to USA Today, six victims included people between the ages of 15 and 16, and one woman in her 30s who was not part of the beach party on Friday. One suspect, age 16, was arrested for possessing a stolen firearm, and an 18-year-old was arrested for possessing a firearm in a municipal parking lot, police said.
The incident stemmed from a high school senior skip day in the coastal city of Isle of Palms, about 15 miles east of Charleston, SC, when gunfire erupted at about 5:20 p.m., according to CNN news reports.
Photo of Isle of Palms beach submitted by Melanie Domes.