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Sheriff’s deputies say a 14-year-old camouflaged in shrubbery fired a pellet rifle at passing cars on U.S. 264 in Wilson County, shattering windows and scaring motorists who travel the busy highway.
Detectives identified the teenage suspect following an extensive investigation, Sheriff Calvin Woodard said Friday. Reports of cars struck by gunfire Wednesday afternoon led deputies to comb the woods off the highway shoulder and find ground blinds, pellets and BBs.
“The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office was working on the case since the first report was made to us,” Woodard said in a news release. “At no time was Highway 264 rendered unsafe due to constant patrols and covert surveillance in the area. Details of the investigation needed to be confidential so that evidence could not be destroyed and the person involved in these immoral acts could be located and arrested.”
Chief of Staff Wanda Samuel said every vehicle struck was traveling eastbound on U.S. 264 near mile marker 38, near Mamie Road between Wilson and Sims. The stretch of road is near the northbound and southbound Interstate 95 exits.
Crime scene investigators and detectives searched a wooded area south of the highway’s eastbound lane and recovered a spent round from a high-powered pellet rifle, Samuel said. Investigators also found “two makeshift ground blinds using natural shrubbery.”
“The detectives and administration worked throughout the day and night following a multitude of leads; however, ‘old-fashioned’ legwork was the key to locating the area where the victims’ vehicles were struck, the alleged weapon and additional evidence to solidify the case,” Woodard said.
The 14-year-old accused in the shooting was not identified by name or gender because the suspect is a juvenile. Detectives charged the teen with 20 counts each of discharging a barreled weapon into an occupied vehicle and causing damage to personal property.
Woodard said the sheriff’s office tried to obtain a secure custody order for the suspect but was denied. The teen was turned over to his or her parents.
“I am very disappointed that the victims went through this and that with the time placed in the investigation, the juvenile walks,” Woodard said. “We will remain vigilant in protecting the citizens of Wilson County.”
It wasn’t immediately clear who denied the sheriff’s petition for secure custody. State law says any District Court judge can issue secure and nonsecure custody orders and chief District Court judges can also delegate that authority to court counselors.
Reports of gunfire striking motorists’ cars circulated widely on social media and made news throughout North Carolina. After identifying numerous victims on Wednesday, deputies spoke with additional drivers Thursday who reported their cars being struck.
Woodard thanked the N.C. Highway Patrol and State Bureau of Investigation, which assisted deputies in the case. The Highway Patrol’s aviation unit flew over the area Thursday as investigators closed in on the ground blinds.
“Deputies will continue patrols as they always have and we will always work to assure the safety of the citizens and those who commute each and every day throughout Wilson County,” Woodard said.