Anthony Hill (Photo: Facebook)
Newberry County, SC (WLTX) - Newberry County deputies say a man found dead Wednesday morning had been shot in the head and dragged behind a pickup truck, and they're now investigating to see if this could be a hate crime.
Sheriff Lee Foster identified the victim as 30-year-old Anthony Hill of Winnsboro at a Wednesday afternoon news conference with State Law Enforcement Division Director Reggie Lloyd.
The coroner concluded that Hill died from the gunshot wound.
Earlier in the day, deputies announced they'd arrested 19-year-old Gregory Ashton Collins in connection with the killing and charged him with murder.
Foster has said that the incident is "one of the top three most violent crime scenes he's ever seen." Foster has been in law enforcement for 35 years.
Foster and Lloyd say they are investigating the possibility that the incident could be a hate crime. Hill is black, while Collins is white.
The FBI is assisting in the investigation.
"We're acting with an abundance of caution, and we're looking at that as one avenue," Foster said. "It doesn't necessarily mean that it is a hate crime, or that it will be judged a hate crime, or that it willl be judged a hate crime in the end. We want to go ahead while we're doing the investigation to have a joint investigation with the FBI, who has jurisdiction over hate crimes."
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford issued a statement on the killing, a rarity for the governor in pending criminal cases. He urged the public to remain calm until the investigation is complete.
"If this ends up being the case, [that it is a hate crime] we recognize it and condemn it for what it would be - an isolated incident of hate that is indeed to be deeply condemned from all corners of the state and nation. It would represent an event that certainly does not accurately reflect the good and decent people of South Carolina, and an incident that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," Sanford wrote.
The full text of Sanford's statement is at the bottom of this article.
Hill's body was found by a person driving down Highway 176 around 4:30 a.m. The discovery was made in an area near the town limits of the town of Pomaria, about a half-mile from Pomaria Garmany Elementary School.
Evidence at the scene led investigators to Collins's trailer on Orchard Park Trail. Deputies and SLED agents surrounded his home and tried to get him to come outside. After three hours, officers used tear gas to force him from the trailer. Original Story: Standoff Ends, Suspect in Custody
The suspect did not have any weapons on him, but deputies did say he was wearing an empty gun holster.
Investigators believe Hill was killed at Collins's trailer. They believe Collins then dragged Hill's body with his pick-up truck to the site where Hill was found--a distance of almost 10 miles.
"That is the part that's absolutely senseless," Foster said. "Why would somebody do that to a person after they were dead, and that's our job to try and figure out why."
Investigators say they are not sure of the motive behind the crime, but say Hill and Collins were acquaintances. According to Foster, the two worked at the Louis Rich plant in Newberry.
Foster says Collins has been somewhat cooperative.
Here is Sanford's full statement:
"In light of the tragic news coming from Newberry County today, I want to commend Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster and others in law enforcement for responding quickly and decisively to this most troubling situation. Our office would ask for people's thoughts and prayers for the family of the victim of this horrendous crime.
"As the Newberry County Sheriff's Office said earlier today, there may be reason to believe that this crime potentially has elements related to a hate crime, and as Sheriff Foster and others go about determining this we would urge two things:
"One, that people stay calm until the facts are settled and law enforcement - in this case including the local sheriff's office, State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation - has a chance to fully investigate the crime. We will extend all state resources necessary to local law enforcement in completing this investigation.
"And two, that if this ends up being the case, we recognize it and condemn it for what it would be - an isolated incident of hate that is indeed to be deeply condemned from all corners of the state and nation. It would represent an event that certainly does not accurately reflect the good and decent people of South Carolina, and an incident that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."