LEXINGTON, S.C. — A South Carolina boy who was spending the night at his father’s house was fatally shot early Tuesday morning in a home invasion, authorities said.
The boy, identified by the Lexington County coroner as 8-year-old Mason Hanahan, was pronounced dead at a hospital following the shooting.
Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon said in a news release that a masked man broke into the home, in the 100 block of Cedar Vale Drive in Lexington, around 12:20 a.m. Tuesday and exchanged gunfire with a man who lived there. The resident, who some news outlets identified as Mason's father, was shot before the gunman fled, but his injuries were not life-threatening.
Mason was apparently caught in the crossfire between the two men, authorities said.
"We believe, based on the evidence that we've collected, that the individual we're looking for suffered a gunshot wound during the exchange of gunfire," Lexington County Sheriff's Department Capt. Adam Myrick said Tuesday, according to video from WIS-TV in Columbia.
The gunman remained at large Thursday.
"We're still working to piece the sequence of events together but getting a name on the man who fled the scene will be the most helpful to us," Koon said in the news release. "The death of the young child during this incident is tragic and our hearts go out to his family."
Residents of the neighborhood where Mason was killed expressed shock over the tragedy.
"We don't have this kind of trouble in this neighborhood that I'm aware of," neighbor Michael Parnell told WIS-TV. "I've been here 24 years and we've never had anything quite this violent."
Mason, who lived with his mother and three siblings, was an avid baseball player in the Pineview Dixie Youth league who had just made the all-star team on Saturday, his mother, Tyler Hanahan, told the news station. His first practice was Monday night, after which he asked if he could sleep over at his father's house.
Hanahan said her son’s death feels like a nightmare.
"We're all devastated," Hanahan told WIS-TV through tears. "I keep thinking this is not real, and I'm going to be able to go and pick him up from school."
Hanahan said her son, who was inseparable from his 6-year-old sister, adored his family, his school, his teachers and his friends. The feelings were mutual, she said.
“He was just perfect. I can’t explain it,” Hanahan said. “I know I’m his mom, but he was just so special. He loved life and loved everyone around him.”
Mason dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player when he grew up, Hanahan said.
Several other parents shared photos on social media of Mason and his friends and fellow ball players. Bethany Smith wrote on the Pineview Dixie Youth Facebook page that Mason and his mother are "loved beyond measure."
“Nothing can describe the feelings and impact Mason had on so many of us,” Smith wrote.
On her own Facebook page, Smith shared a photo of Mason with her son.
The baseball league, along with many parents, changed its profile picture to one of Mason’s initials on a background of a baseball, two bats crossed over one another and a baseball diamond with wings.
Administrators at Mason's school, Oak Grove Elementary in Lexington, sent parents a letter breaking the news of the second grader's death. Mason's family asked the school to share the news, but also requested privacy as they grieve, officials said.
Extra counselors were brought in this week to help Mason’s classmates process their loss.
"We know how hard something like this is even for adults to understand," read the letter, which was obtained by WLTX in Columbia. "This letter contains some general suggestions about how you can help your child. In general, after something like this, children need to know that they are safe and that their home is safe. Remember, too, that children look to the adults in their lives, watch how they handle grief and loss, and take their cues from you as they approach difficult situations like this."
The school offered parents tips on how to answer their children’s questions, including giving honest, brief explanations, avoiding over-answering their questions and keeping answers at the child’s level of understanding.
Listening and offering plenty of hugs were also among the suggestions.
Myrick said Tuesday that investigators are confident someone out in the community knows who killed Mason. He said tipsters can remain anonymous.
"They might have seen something last night in the area, they might have heard something in the area, or they very well might know someone who has suffered this injury," Myrick said. "That's who we want to talk with. Go ahead and make that call to us so that we can identify this person."
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