FORT MILL. S.C. — A man is charged with murder after a 19-year-old woman was shot to death Tuesday evening at the landmark Peach Stand restaurant and market on U.S. Route 21 in Fort Mill.
The York County coroner identified the victim as Karson Whitesell. She was an employee at the store.
Several people stopped by the store Wednesday to drop off flowers, creating a makeshift memorial.
“It’s just heart-sinking,” customer Debra Woodruff said.
Friends and strangers also left teddy bears and trinkets outside the front doors in Whitesell's memory.
"It's really sad because her life was cut very short and there was a lot of potential in her that I saw in her," Woodruff said.
Witness Chris Anderson told Channel 9's Mark Becker about what he saw the day of the shooting.
He said he saw Whitesell on the floor and a man with a gun standing by the door.
"He told my guy that he'd shot and killed her. He was holding the gun and for us to call the police," said Anderson.
Peach Stand's statement on Karson:
Karson was an extraordinary young woman who worked for us at the Peach Stand as a cashier since 2016. She was an emerging leader, always happy to help, and we counted on her to fill in occasionally for managers. Karson cared about her coworkers and our customers, and at 19, had already begun doing church mission work to help people she had never met but were in need. We are devastated by the loss of Karson, and have grief counselors available to meet with our staff. Our prayers are with her family and everyone affected by this tragedy.
Authorities said they rushed into the store just two minutes after the shooting, around 4:45 p.m., and the suspect was still there. Police quickly took him into custody.
On Wednesday, police identified the shooter as 28-year-old Christopher Mendez. He's charged with murder and possession of a firearm during commission of a violent crime. He's being held without bond.
Investigators said Mendez stormed into the store and opened fire, killing Whitesell, of Rock Hill.
Employees and customers were nearby when the shooting happened but no one else was hurt.
Police have not said whether Whitesell and Mendez knew each other and have not released any motive, but they said there is no indication that the shooting was related to a robbery or to domestic violence.
Channel 9 learned that Mendez used to work at Goodwill Industries in Lancaster.
The company sent this statement to Channel 9 about Mendez and the deadly shooting:
We are deeply saddened by this tragic event and our condolences go out to Ms. Whitesell’s family and loved ones.
Christopher Mendez was an employee of Goodwill® Industries of the Southern Piedmont. We are cooperating with authorities in their investigation. We can offer no further comment at this time because this is an internal human resources matter and we aren’t at liberty to share any additional information.
In a statement to Channel 9 Wednesday, Whitesell's boyfriend Tevin Izzard said, "She was amazing and had a beautiful soul. My best friend, the love of my life. She will never be forgotten. She will live through me for the rest of my life."
People Channel 9 spoke with said the popular store is one of the last places you'd expect someone to get killed in Fort Mill.
"In my recollection, during the time that I've been (here), which is now almost 18 years, we've never had an incident of this type occur here,” Fort Mill Police Maj. Bryan Zachary told Channel 9.
The Peach Stand is a staple in the community. On an average day, the popular shop is filled with people.
On Tuesday night, police swarmed the building. The windows were covered up and the lamp posts were draped with crime tape.
Joy Jarrett said her 19-year-old niece works at the Peach Stand and was inside when the shots were fired.
"First of all, in that moment, not to know if she was OK was horrific, and then, to see her with just silent tears, not even knowing what to say, and at such a young age,” Jarrett said. “She's 19. To have to have witnessed that is a terrible thing."
“I was born and raised here. This is a place that everybody knows, everybody comes to, multiple times a week,” Jarrett said. “It's scary and it's sad.”
"This is the last place, in the middle of Fort Mill, that I would've ever expected,” Jarrett continued.
According to Whitesell's blog, she was active in mission work. She wrote that in 2014 she went on a mission trip to serve in an orphanage in Haiti with her mother and also mentioned she had recently returned from another mission trip to Swaziland and South Africa.
Peach Stand officials said the store would be closed Wednesday and Thursday but would reopen Friday.
Whitesell's church, Illumine Church in Rock Hill, will hold a visitation for Whitesell Friday from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. Her funeral service will be held at the church on Saturday at 11 a.m.
The church also posted about Whitesell's death on Facebook:
“Yesterday, unimaginable tragedy took the life of Karson Whitesell, one of Illumine's members. Only the power and victory of the resurrection Christ won for Karson can counteract this evil. Karson is home, with her Savior. Despite all the bad, this is a good thing.
“For those left behind, we ask for prayers, generosity, and love. The details of visitations/funeral will be published as soon as we have them.
“God is here, for each of you, as you grieve this. Please don't hesitate to reach out to Illumine for counsel, conversation, or literally anything else you might need.”
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