DARLINGTON, S.C. (WBTW) — After two people were killed in shootings within 48 hours in the city, Darlington Mayor Curtis Boyd called for prayers in the public square. Even on short notice about 10 pastors gathered together, joined their voices, and asked God to stop the violence.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “It was just a calm, knowing that God is always with me where I go. But you can feel it, the spirit of everybody coming together.”
Since then, the city has not seen a shooting.
“It seems to have done wonderful,” Boyd said. “Things have calmed down a lot.”
Darlington, a city of about 6,000 people, recorded one homicide in 2019, according to data from the FBI. Within the first five months of 2021, it had seen four deaths from gun violence. An additional five people have been injured in shootings. In total, the area around the city has seen at least 14 shootings this year.
There have been at least 197 shootings within News13’s coverage this year — which includes Darlington, Dillon, Florence, Horry, Marion and Marlboro counties in South Carolina, along with Robeson and Scotland counties in North Carolina — as of the afternoon of July 1. Most of those shootings have been clustered in the Pee Dee region, specifically in Darlington and Florence counties.
By the beginning of May, Darlington’s per capita shootings rate had surpassed that of Chicago. In a small community like Darlington, even a single shooting can cause its rate to jump dramatically.
But ever since May 18, the area has been shootings-free.
Boyd put out a call on social media on May 21 asking for the town to gather in the public square and pray for 15 to 30 minutes. The request came on the same day that the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office announced that it had created a new four-person homicide team in the county, and after the city had two homicides within two days.
The Darlington area had four shootings in January, six in February, one in April and three in May.
It’s a pattern, Boyd said, he’s never seen in the city.
“All the shootings for me, it is just, the devil working to tear families apart, and neighborhoods apart,” he said.
He said the shootings have been done by people coming through town, gangs and even road rage incidents.
“That’s what we prayed for, that people will learn to love each other and not kill each other and not pull guns out and shoot each other,” he said.
Boyd said that there is power in numbers and that there is power in prayer.
Rev. Brian Sherwood, the lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Darlington, said that the gathered pastors cried out to God for peace.
“It was pretty powerful and encouraging,” he said.
Sherwood has had a relationship with Boyd for a few years. The pastor said he makes a point to make connections with other faith, city and community leaders.
Sherwood said that May’s prayer event was a first step, and that there’s talk about a community revival and prayer walk.
“I just feel a movement in our community of people wanting to come together and really birth our community in prayer,” he said.
The shootings this year, he said, have hit close to home. Two members of his congregation live at a nearby apartment complex where a man drove to after being shot, and then died.
“I have had members who have been hurting,” Sherwood said.
But when things like gun violence impact a community, he said that people also tend to band together and take action to make it stop.
“It causes you to not be apathetic in that situation,” Sherwood said.
He urges Darlington to make an intentional effort to say they will pray and love their community.
“Prayer is about surrendering and saying to God, ‘I can’t do this, we can’t do it, it starts with you,’” he said. “It shows a dependency.”
His church is about to start a vacation Bible school. Groups like that, he said, are a step in letting youth know there’s a place for them to go to find a sense of community, instead of getting roped into crime.
He believes the prayer event has had an impact in violent crime.
“It doesn’t seem to be as intense as before,” he said. “There are still some efforts that need to be made, but I believe that’s a huge step in the right direction.”
Boyd said that Satan doesn’t want people to join together, and wants them to be isolated. He said that children don’t have guidance, which can make it easy for them to be lured into crime. He wants them to know there is another way.
He said the purpose of church is to bring people together to become stronger.
“Every day is a fight, so when I get up in the morning, I am fighting with the Devil every day, he is trying to attack me,” Boyd said.
He said that the community will be stronger if it’s together in church, reading Bibles and praying.
“Support law enforcement, and support your pastors, and go to church,” Boyd said.