Richland County, SC (WLTX) -- The leaders of multiple law enforcement agencies now say a suspect robbed several people, then shot and killed a restaurant owner, all within a one-hour time-frame Tuesday night.
Richland County Sheriff's deputies, Forest Acres Police, and Columbia Police held a joint news conference Wednesday afternoon about the crimes.
The suspect, who committed suicide Tuesday night after a vehicle pursuit, has been identified as 23-year-old Mario Jerome Stokes with two last known addresses--one from Decker Boulevard and the other from Leesburg Road. Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the suspect had a lengthy criminal record.
"Last night, he basically went crazy with a crime spree," Lott said.
The sheriff said that he believes Stokes was familiar with the area, but they aren't sure what caused him to commit the crimes.
Officers say the events began when Stokes robbed a woman at gunpoint and stole her vehicle at the Capital Heights Complex at 7:29 p.m.
Officers he took the woman's white Ford Escape and took it to the Family Dollar on Leesburg Road at 8:40 p.m. There, investigators say he robbed the employees and assaulted several of them.
Investigators say he then went to China Palace on Beltline Boulevard and robbed that store at 8:50 p.m.
At 9:29 p.m., officer say he went to Dino's Restaurant on Beltline Boulevard, where he robbed, then shot and killed, the store's owner, Steve Kim.
Coroner Gary Watts said Kim died at the scene from a gunshot wound to the back.
Columbia police were able to stop the suspect outside the Walgreen's on Garners Ferry Road. Officers say the man shot shot himself when officers tried to approach the car.
A female customer stopped by Dino's before Stokes arrived, officials say. Kim told her that he was closed, but that he would make one last order for her. While Kim was preparing the woman's food, officers say Stokes walked in and demanded money from the restaurant owner.
The female witness told police that she saw Stokes open fire on Kim as the restaurant owner tried to walk away, according to officials. They say she ran from the suspect and locked herself in the restaurant's restroom. Ten minutes later, officers say she notified authorities.
When officers arrived, they tried to resuscitate Kim, but they were too late.
Officers say after a ballistic test, they determined that the same gun was used in both killings. Lott said that the gun, a loaded 9 mm pistol, was stolen from a vehicle parked in the valet parking area of the Columbia Metropolitan Airport and reported earlier this month.
Lott said Stokes may be responsible for more crimes in the area.
"This is just an unfortunate, very unfortunate, situation," said Columbia Chief of Police Randy Scott. He said Kim was a friend to law enforcement and he asked for prayers for the restaurant owner's family and the Korean community in Columbia and Richland County.
So this guy decides he is not going to jail and saves tax payers thousands of dollars just by giving himself the Death Penalty! I'm all for this kind of behavior! Not the being a murdering slimeball piece of S$%T behavior, but the making it easy on everyone and taking yourself out behavior. That is the best thing ever! It gives families of the victims closure instead of dragging things out thru the legal system for decades. The only thing that could make this any better is if the victim's families get to shoot the guy instead....or at the very least get to beat the hell out of the body before its taken away.