GREENVILLE, S.C. — A shooting at a nightclub early Sunday left two people dead and eight wounded in South Carolina, a sheriff's official said.
Two Greenville County sheriff's deputies noticed a disturbance at Lavish Lounge just before 2 a.m., and saw a large crowd running out of the building, Sheriff Hobart Lewis said at a news conference. There was "active gunfire from inside the building," Lt. Jimmy Bolt said in an initial statement, and Lewis said all the shots were fired inside.
Both Lewis and Bolt initially said 12 people had been wounded — with at least four in critical condition, Lewis said — but Bolt told The Associated Press that two victims were likely counted twice in the confusion at the hospital.
No one was immediately taken into custody. Bolt told the AP that the sheriff's office was looking for two suspects, but couldn't provide names or descriptions.
"We don't really have a person of interest that we can name," Lewis said, later adding that authorities weren't sure what led to the gunfire.
Lewis said a "very large crowd" was at the nightclub for "some type of concert." A post on Lavish Lounge’s Facebook page advertised a July 4 performance by trap rapper Foogiano. An Instagram direct message from the AP wasn’t immediately returned, but a bookings representative told the AP via text message that Foogiano was fine and his team was safe.
Coronavirus cases in South Carolina have risen swiftly and the state’s rate of positive tests is three times the recommended level. In late June, the Upstate city of Greenville — which has experienced some of the state's highest COVID-19 rates — became the first city to mandate face coverings in South Carolina, where Gov. Henry McMaster has refused to implement a statewide mask requirement.
McMaster reminded South Carolinians last week that he hadn't lifted restrictions on large crowds, and that those operating nightclubs illegally or holding concerts against his orders don't have to be caught in the act to face criminal charges, but instead could be charged weeks later if COVID-19 cases are traced back.
Under restrictions imposed by McMaster in March to restrict the spread of the coronavirus, gatherings of 50 or more people in a single room are off-limits. Authorities told the Greenville News that investigators determined about 200 were inside the club at the time of the shooting, more than the maximum capacity allowed in the business under the governor's emergency order.
Lewis said at the news conference that he didn't know whether the club had sought an exemption to the governor's order or secured a permit for Saturday night's event, but said it was clear that the club's patrons weren't 6 feet (2 metres) apart.
"It's certainly not the best situation to stop the spread of this virus," the sheriff said, adding investigators found a lot blood and "a lot of spent rounds" of ammunition as they collected evidence from inside the club.
A phone call and an Instagram direct message from the AP to Lavish Lounge weren’t immediately returned, but the club posted on Facebook just before 6 a.m. that events "have been postponed until further notice."
Lewis said the victims were taken to Prisma Health hospital in Greenville, some via private vehicle. Bolt said that of the eight wounded, some had non-life-threatening injuries and others were in critical condition, but he didn't have a tally of the latter.
Prisma Health spokesperson Tammie Epps said she did not know how many victims were in critical condition. Local reports cited another hospital spokeswoman, Sandy Dees, as saying six of the injured had been released by Sunday afternoon.
The Greenville County Coroner’s Office identified the dead as 23-year-old Mykala Bell of Greenville and a 51-year-old security guard at the club, Clarence Sterling Johnson of Duncan, according to the Greenville News.
Associated Press journalist Mallika Sen contributed to this report from Los Angeles.