An early morning shooting at the Battery continues to baffle police Shortly after 3:15 a.m. on Aug. 19, Battery residents called in a complaint to police of a loud noise that sounded like fireworks. When officers arrived, they found a vehicle in the median with the lights on and the driver shot dead behind the wheel. After being parked at the Battery for an unknown length of time, it’s likely that the victim tried to put the car in reverse, possibly trying to escape his killer, says city police Detective Richard Burckhardt.

Authorities have no idea what brought the man to the Battery at that time of night, but the motive for the killing, and the reason witnesses have not come forward, may be found in the area’s late-night reputation as a discreet meeting place for gay men.

There’s been no indication the victim was gay and he could have been at the park for other purposes, perhaps parking at the Battery because of a sleepless night. But a robber could have chosen the area, and the victim specifically, because he/she assumed the man sitting alone in a car would be an easy mark who would not report the incident for fear of raising attention about his Battery visit.

Gay travel magazine OutTraveler featured Charleston in its Fall 2003 issue, including a reference to the Battery’s late-night use:

“The Battery — with its mix of roiling sea and elegant mansions, quiet shade and ubiquitous breezes — may also be the most beautiful cruising spot in the country. In Battery Park you can feel the tension between the tidal urge of the moment and poignant backward pull of history.”

“To be frank, I had speculated about the gay aspect of (the shooting), too,” says Harlan Greene, the article’s author and a Charleston resident. Greene notes he’s unaware of the current cruising scene at the Battery and that it’s likely tapered off with the realities of AIDS and the evolution of cybersex.

The few details the police have of the crime are being kept secret as the investigation continues, and Burckhardt says the motive for the crime also remains unknown.

“Without having witnesses, we’re not going to speculate as to why this person was there,” Burckhardt says. “There’s several scenarios we can draw up on this thing, but we’re calling it a homicide for now.”

Burckhardt notes the Battery has been pretty safe over the years, though a police report of a vehicle search two nights before the shooting references “recent burglaries in the area.” That stop also included the confiscation of a loaded weapon.

If there are witnesses or other victims of late-night crimes in the area, it’s likely they will go unreported. Studies suggest that when gay men are victimized, they aren’t likely to report the incident if there’s the potential it will cause them to publicly disclose their sexual orientation. A 2002 report in the Journal of Social Issues notes that gay men interviewed for the study reported only 46 percent of hate crimes.

One interviewee for the study notes: “I was afraid that the police (were) going to gay bash me, and that everybody would know that I’m gay because I was in the closet.”

The vague circumstances of the Battery crime leave too many unanswered questions to label it a hate crime, says Warren Redman-Gress with the Alliance for Full Acceptance, a gay outreach organization.

“I’ve heard of a lot of different things that go on at the Battery,” he says. “Who knows.”

Those with information can contact the Charleston City Police at 720-2401 and ask for the detective division.

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