In a tragic incident that has sparked fresh debate over self-defense laws, a 20-year-old University of South Carolina student was fatally shot by a homeowner after attempting to enter the wrong home on South Holly Street. Columbia police announced on Wednesday that the homeowner will not face charges, as the shooting was deemed a "justifiable homicide" under the state's "castle doctrine" law. The identity of the homeowner has not been released to the public.
According to police reports, the victim, identified as Nicholas Donofrio, repeatedly knocked, banged, and kicked on the front door while trying to enter the home. The female resident of the house called 911 while Donofrio continued to aggressively try to gain entry. Meanwhile, a male resident retrieved a firearm from elsewhere in the house. Donofrio then broke a glass window on the front door and reached inside to manipulate the doorknob. It was at this point that the male resident fired a shot through the broken window, striking Donofrio in the upper body.
Columbia Police Chief W.H. Holbrook expressed his condolences to the Donofrio family, calling the case "heartbreaking." The lead investigator on the case maintained close contact with the family throughout the investigation. Donofrio's relatives released a statement describing him as "the son that every parent would wish for," highlighting his sense of humor, intelligence, compassion, and love for life. Donofrio, originally from Connecticut, was a sophomore studying kinesiology and exercise science at the University of South Carolina.
This incident is the latest in a series of fatal shootings resulting from mistaken identities. In April alone, there were three similar tragedies, including the shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl in Kansas City, the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis in upstate New York, and the shootings of two Texas cheerleaders. These incidents have reignited the debate over "stand your ground" and "castle doctrine" laws, which allow people to use lethal force in self-defense.
South Carolina is among the 28 states that have some form of a self-defense law that does not require individuals to retreat from an attacker if they are lawfully present. The state also does not require gun owners to be licensed. Critics argue that lax gun laws and inflammatory political discourse have contributed to these tragic incidents.
The Columbia Police Department will continue to consult with the Fifth Circuit Solicitor's Office regarding the circumstances of the case. Police have also stated that toxicology reports from the Richland County Coroner's Office are pending to determine if Donofrio was under the influence of any substances at the time of the incident. The investigation remains ongoing.
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