The case ended two young lives, forever changed others and left deep scars to this day. It shook Santee and Orangeburg County nearly four decades ago.
In 1980, then-13-year-old Brian Sanders, who is white, fired buckshot from a shotgun in a wooded area off U.S. 301 near Interstate 95 at Santee. The shots struck and killed two African-American children and injured two others.
Sanders, who lived at a nearby truck stop, told authorities he was hunting wild dogs when the incident occurred. Amid much tension in a case with many racial overtones, Sanders was moved into adult court and pleaded guilty to two counts of voluntary manslaughter less than a year after he killed 9-year-old Kevin Gadson and 8-year-old Juanita Summers. He was not charged with injuring Ronald Shingler, 14, and Tonia Carver, 6. The children, who were cousins, were playing in the wooded area near their homes when hit by the shots.
Sanders’ plea got him a 60-year sentence. He was eligible for parole in 10 years but served 20 years before being paroled in 2000 after having been denied seven times. The families of the victims regularly were in attendance at hearings, opposing parole.
To this day, the surviving victims and the families of the four do not believe justice was fully served in the case. And neither do supporters of Sanders, who contend the teenager was wrongly pushed into a guilty plea.
The case then was potentially explosive. With the death of two young children and wounding of two others by a teenager who said he thought he was shooting at dogs, there was anger and outrage in the black community and in particular in neighborhood where the children lived.
Sanders maintained then and does so now that the incident was an accident and that he did not intentionally shoot the children.
This week, nearly 39 years later, Sanders and the families again were before state officials about what happened on the fateful day of Jan. 21, 1980.
Now 51, Sanders on Wednesday asked the board of the S.C. Probation, Parole and Pardon Services for a pardon in the case.
According to a report from the hearing by The State newspaper of Columbia, Sanders was asked why he believes he deserves a pardon.
“First of all, I’d like to say I’m really sorry for what happened. It was a horrible, horrible accident,” said Sanders, adding he has led a good life since being paroled from prison. “The only consolation I have is that it was an accident. But I take responsibility.”
Margie Shingler, 77, told the board that her son Ronald Shingler’s hand was maimed by the shooting. He still suffers emotionally.
She and the victims’ other relatives brought with them petitions signed by several hundred Orangeburg-area residents urging the state board to deny Sanders’ request for a pardon.
A tragedy that cost lives, changed lives and opened deep wounds remains very real nearly 40 years later.
Sanders told The State he thought the board’s decision was “a little unfair” but acknowledged the panel had “a tough call to make,” especially “when you had a room full of victims.”
Asked whether Sanders should get a pardon, 53-year-old Ronald Shingler, holding out his hand mangled by buckshot that day in 1980, answered: “Never.”