Dozens of people rushed in every direction from a nightclub when gunfire erupted early Saturday morning in one of Columbia, South Carolina’s most popular nightlife districts.
Eight people were injured in the shooting that happened outside the Empire Supper Club, which police have since shut down and declared a nuisance.
Two opposing groups were the source of multiple rounds of gunfire that started outside the club, Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook said at a noon news conference.
It was not a random or drive-by shooting, Holbrook said. Police have not confirmed whether there was any gang affiliation among the shooting parties, he said.
Police are talking to multiple people of interest and have identified several vehicles of interest, Holbrook said. No arrests have been made. Police are searching for multiple suspects and believe multiple handguns were involved in the shooting, Holbrook said.
The club has been shut down and padlocked, Holbrook said, adding that it has been the site of other disturbing incidents in the past. Drops of blood were splattered on the sidewalk outside the club on Saturday.
Empire Supper Club bills itself as an “upscale” nightclub. According to the club’s website, the club is open only to people ages 25 and up on Friday nights and “no hardcore rap music” is played on those nights. It sits across a parking lot from the Art Bar, a longtime, popular Vista bar, and not far from Panera Bread, Pearlz Oyster Bar and the Oyster Bar.
Police are searching for the people who were in two cars – a black Mustang with paper tags and a dark-colored, four-door BMW – who might have information about the shooting.
Four men and four women, ranging in age from 22 to 52, were injured, with their conditions ranging from stable to critical as of around 10 a.m. Some were from Columbia, some from neighboring counties, and one from out of state, Holbrook said.
Police officers responded within seconds when shots were heard around 2:10 a.m. Saturday outside the Empire Supper Club in the Vista. That’s just after closing time for most downtown bars and clubs.
Police said the injuries the victims received ranged from “grazes to critically injured.” Many of those injured were rushed to the hospital by ambulance or private vehicle.
“I just think as the investigation develops, we’ll get leads,” Deputy Chief Melron Kelly said overnight. “Someone knows something. This is the heart of downtown Columbia.”
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin tweeted Saturday morning that he was “sick & tired of this culture of senseless violence that grips our country.”
Holbrook, too, denounced the violence, saying “we have got to recognize that gun crime cant be tolerated.”
As of Saturday morning, no arrests had been announced.
In a tweet shortly after 9 a.m. Saturday, Columbia police said their investigators “are making tremendous progress. This is a team effort with all hands on deck.” Video cameras in the area have been a valuable tool, they said.
The Vista Guild business association said Saturday morning it had asked all its business owners to provide any video they have from their own security cameras to police.
“The Vista Guild’s thoughts are with the victims of this terrible incident last night, first and foremost,” the Guild wrote in a Facebook post. “We are in frequent communication with the Columbia Police Department, who by all accounts, responded swiftly and is making this a top priority.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Crimestoppers at 888-CRIME-SC, where you can leave an anonymous tip.