LUMBERTON — Lucky.
That’s how business owners, customers and police are describing Wednesday afternoon’s drive-by shooting in a busy Fayetteville Road shopping center in North Lumberton.
While 26-year-old Clarence Graham was hit in the leg by one of about eight bullets fired from a gold vehicle, his injury wasn’t life-threatening and he was able to leave Southeastern Regional Medical Center the same day. Police and witnesses believe he was targeted.
“There were several shots fired and he was the only one that was hit, thank goodness,” said Capt. Terry Parker of the Lumberton Police Department.
Although the shooting occurred at about 1:15 p.m. when the center is populated with people grabbing lunch at nearby Pleasant Pizza, few people besides Graham and a woman he was with were in the parking lot in front of For U Beauty.
Margaret Joyce Locklear was there and said her 5-year-old was “in the line of gunfire.”
”Ridiculous,” she wrote on The Robesonian’s Facebook. “You can’t even go eat without risking a chance.”
According to Tommy Bryant, owner of Bryant’s Gun and Pawn, which is next to the beauty shop, the shooting could have happened anywhere. He doesn’t believe the shooting was random.
“It would have happened if he had pulled in here, at Buddy’s (Home Furnishings) … he was following him,” Bryant said.
Bryant said Graham first pulled into a different entrance of the shopping center, followed by the gold car. When he parked in front of For U Beauty and got out, the gold car pulled around the row of cars towards him.
“They were very lucky that for the amount of rounds he popped off that no one else was hurt,” Bryant said.
Bryant was working at the counter in his shop when the shots were fired.
“It actually sounded like someone knocked on the window,” he said. At the time, Bryant said, a former Lumberton police officer was in the store and helped Graham in before calling 911 and going into the parking lot to make sure no evidence was touched or moved.
According to Demetrios Antonopoulus, who helps manage Pleasant Pizza, which is on the other side of the beauty shop, a man was outside painting the restaurant’s front window when the shots were fired. He had been standing on the far side of a newspaper box that now bears a dent from where it was hit by a bullet.
Antonopoulus said a few people rushed into the restaurant, and some inside “ducked and took cover.”
About four or five police cars arrived moments after and blocked off the parking lot from H&R Block to Dollar General for about an hour an half while they took statements and collected shell casings.
“He (the shooter) was a good 50 to 60 yards from the guy so they had to mark off where the casings were to where he was shot,” Bryant said.
Although both Bryant and Antonopoulus said business was not affected beyond the time the parking lot was blocked off, they said people have called to ask what had happened.
“I tell them the truth. It happened two doors down … it’s something not everyone has seen but they’ve heard of it,” Antonopoulus said, noting Robeson County’s high violent crime rates.
Having lived in New York and now Lumberton for about a year, Antonopoulus wasn’t shocked by the event, just its setting.
“It was an isolated incident and I don’t think it will be repeated,” he said.
Bryant was surprised at the boldness of the midday crime.
“The bad thing is that he was that carefree to come in this congested an area,” Bryant said. ” … It happens all the time, just never this close to home.”
No arrests have been made and Parker said police are not yet sure what led to the incident. There was a man and woman in the vehicle, but no descriptions beyond their race are available. Anyone with information should call Detective Lee Hinson at 910-671-3845.