As the hours dragged on in an uprising in a South Carolina jail, bodies piled up on the sidewalk. An inmate inside watched in dismay as several inmates, two of whom he knew well, lay dead and dying, leaving their bodies traces of blood in the prison walls.
A bloodied man tried to get up before he "started" death rattles, "which people often hear but never hear firsthand," the inmate told The Associated Press after the attack. Moments later, the dying man was silent, another victim of the night's events.
The inmate sent messages to AP as events unfolded overnight in the Lee Correctional Institution on Monday morning. At the end of the seven-hour ordeal, seven inmates were dead and 1
In Lee, a high security prison, many cell door locks were broken, the inmate told AP that he had gone outside freely where he said he saw corpses "literally stacked on top of each other, like a macabre pile of wood."
State officials accused the massacre in a peat war between gangs over territories, money and contraband such as cell phones. For seven hours, correctional director Bryan Stirling said prisoners armed with homemade knives were fighting each other and leaving seven dead in the worst US prison strike in a quarter of a century. Most of those killed were stabbed or cut; the rest seemed to have been beaten, Lee County coroner Larry Logan said.
The first fight started at 19:15 in a dorm. Sunday and seemed to be before he suddenly started in two other dorms. No prison guards were injured. Stirling said they followed the protocol by withdrawing and asking for support. It took several hours to restore order, but once a special SWAT team stepped in, the inmates gave up peacefully, he said.
The prisoner, who saw the uprising, exchanged messages with AP on the condition of anonymity, because he is not allowed to have a cell phone and feared retaliation from other inmates. He said he saw several attackers mocking a rival gang member.
"I have no doubt that he could have had a chance if someone just opened the gate and the others let him go," said the inmate AP said. "The man died on a sidewalk with some of the people who helped him kill and mock him …"
The inmate said he and other inmates were free in Bishopville Prison, about 40 miles (65 Kilometers) east of Colombia. Hours after the onset of the violence, correctional staff or medical personnel did not attend the dead or dying, he said.
"The COs (correction officers) have never tried to help or suppress the disruption," he said. "They just sat in the control bubble, calling the problem in, then sitting on their collective ass."
Stirling said the reaction teams arrived as soon as possible.
"We gathered as many people as possible as fast as we could and went in as soon as we thought it was safe for our employees," he said.
The murdered served from ten years to life imprisonment, and their crimes ranged from murder to illegal cocaine trafficking. The youngest was 24 years old; the oldest was 44. According to Stirling, injured inmates outside the prison needed medical attention, which made it difficult for the authorities to restore order.
The coroner described on his arrival a chaotic scene with still fighting inmates. The high security facility in Bishopville is home to about 1,500 inmates and 44 guards were there when the first fight began.
The uprising was the recent violence in the South Carolina prison system, where at least 13 other inmates were killed by fellow prisoners since the beginning of 2017. It had killed most inmates in a single US uprising since nine inmates and a 1993 Guard in the US Southern Ohio Correctional Facility died, said Steve Martin, a consultant who helps the federal government monitor prison systems.
According to Stirling, who urged the federal government to change a law and allow state institutions such as this to block prisoners' cell signals, mobiles mobilized the trouble.
Gov. Henry McMaster told reporters that disrupting signals from smuggling phones – which are already banned in jail but smuggled in by thousands, by visitors, wandering guards, even by drones – would mean a "long road" to preventing future violence in prison.
When "We do our best," he said.
State Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Democrat whose district includes Lee Correctional summed up the day
"It's an incredibly bad day in South Carolina," he told AP. "We failed, that's it."
Associated Press authors Jeffrey Collins and Christina Myers in Colombia have contributed to this report.
Kinnard can be reached at http: //. twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read more about her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.