For months, a group of men have waged a campaign of terror against members of Greenville’s homeless community, according to the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office. They are accused of filming and cheering each other on as the assaults unfolded, with gunmen brutalizing vulnerable people for sport.
Investigators have identified at least five victims and believe there are more. The victims, who live largely invisible on the margins of society, were too scared to come forward.
United Housing Connections CEO Lorain Crowl, whose Greenville-based organization provides services and advocates for homeless people, said it was a group particularly vulnerable to violence.
The most obvious risk factor, she said, is that homeless people are physically exposed. They live and sleep in the open, without the security of four walls and a roof. She also said that many people served by her organization would not be homeless if they had a strong support system to fall back on. Homeless people are often isolated, caught in a cycle of poverty and generational trauma, and have nowhere to turn.
“They are there on their own,” she said. “We see this frequently.”
Active warrants for minor charges like trespassing or vagrancy, or past negative experiences with the police, can also make homeless people reluctant to report crimes, making them more vulnerable.
“They’re afraid that if they make a phone call and that warrant comes out, they’ll go to jail for misdemeanors or misdemeanors,” Crowl said.
Mental illness or addiction issues, often at the root of chronic homelessness, can also exacerbate this mistrust of authority and make it difficult to navigate the reporting process.
The alleged assaults took place over eight months in the Poe Mill and Sans Souci areas northwest of the city of Greenville, according to the sheriff’s office. Nearby, a sprawling homeless encampment known as Tent City once stood under the Pete Hollis Bridge before it was disbanded in 2014. The area is still home to a number of small makeshift settlements.
United Housing Connections plans to build a long-term residential facility for the chronically homeless on the site of one such encampment. The facility is a step in the right direction, Crowl said, but the effort to provide shelter to those in Greenville who need it most is an uphill battle.
“I would love to see us house these people,” she said. “That’s what they need. They need housing. Maybe some of them aren’t quite ready for independent living, but they still need housing, whether it’s a group home, transitional housing, good supportive shelters. They need housing. They need to get out from under these tents, from under these bridges. They need a place to live that is safe and secure.
Crowl said she and her colleagues at United Housing Connections continually invest time and resources to build trust with the area’s homeless population and to connect them with services that can get them off the streets in a safer and more stable situation.
The attacks are disheartening, she says.
“It’s just sadness for people who are on the streets and only have people like us trying to defend them,” she said.
The incidents went unnoticed and unreported until deputies charged two of the men allegedly involved in the unrelated July 3 murder of Joshua Garret. When investigators searched the two men’s phones, they discovered videos of attacks on homeless people.
“We searched for the victims ourselves to bring justice to their cases,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Ryan Flood wrote in an email. “These incidents were never reported to us by the victims themselves. We want them to know that we will investigate, as far as possible, to ensure that those responsible for harming them are brought to justice. “
Seth Tyler Norris, 18, faces charges of attempted murder, second-degree assault by a mob and conspiracy. Deputies charged her brother, Joshua Shawn Norris, 20, with second-degree assault and battery by a mob, and two counts of criminal association.
Tristan Wesley Ramey, 24, was implicated, but charges are pending as investigators search for a specific victim, according to the sheriff’s office. David Allen Norris, 41, and Logan Alexander Holmes, 20, have been charged with attempted murder.
Journalist Eric Connor contributed to this story.