Family: Stray bullet severed JL Mann grad's spine - FOX Carolina 21

Family: Stray bullet severed JL Mann grad's spine

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Martha Childress (Source: Facebook) Martha Childress (Source: Facebook)
COLUMBIA, SC (FOX Carolina) -

Family and friends of a University of South Carolina student from the Upstate are asking for prayers after she was shot Sunday in the Five Points area of Columbia.

Martha Childress, 18, was with a group of friends waiting to catch a cab home when the shooting happened, according to Columbia police.

The USC freshman graduated from JL Mann High School earlier in 2013 but she is now in critical condition at a Columbia hospital after authorities in Richland County said a stray bullet hit her. 

Her family said she may never walk again. Childress' uncle, Jim Carpenter, is speaking for the family and said the bullet severed her spine, leaving her paralyzed from the hips down.

He said the bullet went in through her shoulder and through her lungs, kidney and liver before lodging in her lower spine.

"She was with her longtime friend, and said 'I can't feel my legs, I can't feel my feet,'" Carpenter said.

Doctors are working to repair her vital organs and plan ahead for her longterm care, but Carpenter said Childress is a fighter, giving them reason for hope. He said she doesn't want to be thought of as a victim and has already said she is worried about getting behind in her school work.

While doctors are limiting visitors to give her time to heal, USC President Harris Pastides and his wife visited her in the hospital a day after the Five Points-area shooting.

Police say suspect had stolen gun when fired shots into crowd

Police said Michael Smith, 20, of Columbia, got into an argument with two other men when he fired at them, but missed and the shooting was caught on surveillance. Police said one of Smith's bullets hit Childress in the chest, knocking her to the ground.

Police said Smith ran from the scene but was stopped a short time later by a responding officer. He was arrested and charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, and possession of a stolen pistol.

According to the police report, several officers were nearby and heard gunshots, running to the scene where they found Childress on the ground. Police said the shot was fired towards the men Smith was arguing with, but traveled toward a crowd gathered waiting on cabs near the fountain.

Police said they spoke with a witness who said she was standing with Childress when she was shot. Another witness reported seeing Smith fire two rounds at the crowd then try to run away down Harden Street before he was caught by an officer, police said.

Police said when they spoke with the people with Smith, they said they had been drinking at a bar on Harden Street and just left prior to the shooting. The police report said the gun Smith had was reported stolen from Richland County.

In a supplemental police report, Smith was quoted as saying without being prompted, "I'm sorry, I did not mean to shoot."

Carpenter said Childress and her family are angry that Smith was out on the streets with his history of arrest.

"How many times are you going to go lenient on a guy who violates the law and has no regard for human life," Carpenter said.

Community rallies around Childress

Pastides issued the following statement following the shooting:

"I am shocked and deeply saddened to learn that a random act of gun violence has harmed one of our students in the Five Points area early this morning. The university is working closely with our student and her family to provide all available resources. On behalf of the entire Carolina family, Patricia and I offer our thoughts and prayers for healing and recovery and for the safety and well being of all of our students."

Students at USC gathered Monday night on campus to hold a vigil for Childress. And many have taken to social media to show support with the hashtag #PrayForMartha.

The Zeta Tau Alpha sorority also posted a statement and photo of the vigil on their Facebook page saying, "We are so thankful to have the support of our Greek Community in times of sadness and hardships. Praying for you Martha, you have so many supporting you!"

Other members of the USC community have taken to Twitter to show support. Gamecocks baseball player Joey Pankake tweeted, "@marthachildress the baseball team is praying for you and your family #PrayForMartha."

Childress sent out a tweet on her Twitter account Monday saying, "Thanks to everyone who's kept me in their constant thoughts and prayers through this difficult time! The support means so much to me!"

And her family said she will pull through.

"She still has a bright future," Carpenter said. "It'll be more difficult, but she's got the heart of a fighter."

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