GAFFNEY, South Carolina — Nicholas Skylar Lucas’s shots usually hit the rusted, bullet-riddled trash can or fallen satellite dish in his backyard, much to the discontent of some residents.
But on Saturday, August 27, bullets from the intoxicated 30-year-old man’s .45-caliber pistol fatally struck Kesha Luwan Lucille Tate, his 42-year-old neighbor and mother of nine, according to local authorities.
Lucas now faces a murder charge after crime scene technicians denied his initial claim that the shots ricocheted off home plate. The “pristine” bullet could not have deviated from the target before striking Tate’s chest, authorities determined. The only way she could have been hit, according to the local sheriff’s office, is if the shooter turned in his direction and intentionally fired.
For the past two weeks, Tate’s family has grappled with the sudden reality of life without the mother, niece and sister who they say kept them together. They are seeking legal changes without the woman they described as their strongest fighter. And they don’t want to see Tate join the long list of forgotten victims of gun violence.
Songbird Lane is located nearly 6 miles (9.6 kilometers) north of downtown Gaffney, an upstate town of 12,700 whose status as the “peach capital” of South Carolina is marked by a water tower 135 feet (41 meters) that resembles stoneless fruit. Farm fields line parts of the road into town. Most trailers sit on property whose boundaries are unfenced. According to neighbors’ accounts, Songbird Lane was a quiet country lane where mobile home residents mostly kept to themselves.
At the bond hearing, Lucas called the shooting a “total accident” and denied intentionally killing Tate.
“I’m really confused about this whole situation,” Lucas said. “I’ve done all kinds of yard work for this lady and all that.”
Tate’s own children described a more grisly scene within the trailer.
Their mother had been cooking dinner that summer night while Lucas and his friends were shooting at targets in their backyard, according to family members who heard her children’s account. Standing at his back door, less than 50 feet from the downed satellite dish, Tate asked his neighbor to stop firing her gun.
Tate pulled the curtain back a few minutes later when Lucas started shooting again.
“When he looked out the window, he screamed,” said Terry Manning, his brother-in-law, who relayed the children’s account to The Associated Press. They had shot him.
A week later, the children’s bikes remained in the front yard. The window panes in the back door were shattered. Manning and Denise Tate, Kesha’s sister, cleaned the stains from the wall but said they couldn’t get the blood off the carpet.
“If that man got to know my sister, he would never have killed her,” Denise said. “She would have given him a place to stay, a foot to eat, clothes, all of that. Anything she needed, even for her family, she would have helped him.”
Beyond seeking a guilty charge, the family said gun laws need to change. South Carolina had the ninth-highest gun death rate in the country in 2020, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They are pushing for a “Kesha Tate Targets Act” that would make it illegal to discharge a firearm in a residential neighborhood.
Cherokee County Sheriff Steve Mueller said his office has received no reports of Lucas firing his gun at that property in the past year. Even if neighbors had complained about the regular shooting, Mueller said there is no ordinance outlining Lucas’s behavior as illegal. The local sheriff’s office has been collecting court records from other jurisdictions to determine if he could legally own a firearm.
Court records show that Lucas had previously been convicted in North Carolina of assault and robbery. South Carolina state law prohibits the possession of firearms by anyone convicted in any state of robbery, robbery, or “assault with intent to commit a felony punishable by imprisonment for more than one year,” among other “violent crimes.” ”.
The family is also seeking therapy for themselves and the children, who are taking a break from school. Kesha’s 4-year-old daughter can’t fathom the tragedy, but Denise said she knows she hasn’t seen her mother lately.
Interviews with family, friends and acquaintances revealed a woman committed to her community. She “would give you the shirt that she’s wearing,” said neighbor Latosha McFadden. She was a “social butterfly” who would “make sure you had a good time,” Manning said. She “could make anyone laugh,” said Beverly Wray.
Wray, Kesha’s aunt who was known as her mother, remembered her most recent birthday in February. Kesha bought her a dress, told her to put on her heels, and took her to lunch, where she had planned a surprise party. “That’s just her,” Wray said.
For Denise, she was the concrete of the family.
Denise recalled trips she took as a preteen with her sister to Brannon’s Seafood, which “had the best peach cobbler in the world.” After school, Kesha would buy each of them a slice.
“She always made sure I was taken care of. Even as an adult she was always there. She was my backbone,” Denise said. “So I have to keep my composure and stay strong for these kids and their grandson.”
That sentiment was echoed by the entire family: Kesha’s commitment to them must be passed on in the care of her nine surviving children, several of whom have lost their parents.
Family members emphasized that they want to raise the children with each other. They don’t want to be separated in foster care Traleekia Tate, Kesha’s oldest daughter, organized a GoFundMe that has raised more than $11,000. Growing up, she said her mother instilled in her that the family would always take care of one another.
“I miss her,” he said. “I feel like she built me for this.”
James Pollard is a staff member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.