HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – They are wanted for deadly armed robberies, but police don't know who they are, or where they are. They are walking into public places, armed and dangerous. Places where you spend time, where you shop, and where you grab gas. Now, police believe it is a matter of time before the masked men strike again.
“There's always going to be a loss, a void…an emptiness in our family,” expressed Sherry Stull, just days after she buried her eldest daughter, Trisha. The 30-year-old mother was killed during an armed robbery at the Sunhouse Convenience Store in Conway where she worked.
“They wouldn't let us go in. the first time I saw her was at the funeral home on Thursday. That was tough. No one dreams of dropping their child off at work and not being able to go back and pick them up….alive,” Stull said while holding back tears.
Why she was killed is a question the family is still struggling to understand.
“It doesn't make sense. It's senseless. She gave them what they wanted. She would have given them anything they wanted in the store. They didn't have to take her life,” said Stull.
Police are trying to understand, as well.
“The violence associated with these robberies has been noticeable. It's alarming that these people were executed for the money and the goods that they already surrendered,” said Lt. Raul Denis with the Horry County Police Department.
Just weeks before Trisha was murdered, a similar armed robbery happened at another Sunhouse Convenience Store in Longs. Bala Gopal Paruchuri was shot down; both he and Trisha were executed over the counter after handing the robbers cash and cigarettes.
“The unwritten rule is they aren't going to shoot you. They're going to take what they want and then leave. Well, that's changed, very recently. Where these people are standing there, complying and then they're being shot,” said Solicitor Jimmy Richardson.
The solicitor believes a change in mentality is desperately needed to change the disturbing, and deadly, trend.
“In both cases it was two guys, covered up, in hooded sweatshirts and face masks and things. Until we get our hands on the guys, we won't know if they're connected or not,” Lt. Denis said.
Lt. Denis presented WMBF News with the number of armed robberies over the last few years. To compare, each number was based off the month of January. In 2012, the number of armed robberies was a staggering 40. In 2013, that number dropped nearly in half to 26. In 2014, there was an armed robbery nearly every day, with 28 occurring in January.
In comparison, the number of armed robberies so far this year has dropped significantly.
“We've only had about a dozen,” said Lt. Denis.
However, it is the level of violence that is worrying police officers. This is the first time in more than a decade that an armed robbery has turned deadly.
To understand what is happening, you have to understand the mind of a criminal.
Leonard Goldschmidt is a Clinical Neuropsychologist and Forensic Psychologist with the Neurobehavorial Institute at GSPS, PA in Murrells Inlet.
Dr. Goldschmidt has spent years studying and understanding violent killers, looking at behavioral patterns and emotions. While we are all individuals, he explained that collective habits can help profilers understand what could trigger a deadly robbery, and how to prevent another deadly attack.
“When someone robs a convenience store it's to get cash rapidly. It's a quick in, some people are expected to be there, essentially it's the money and then out,” started Dr. Goldschmidt.
He explained typically, a less intelligent criminal will rob a convenience store. It is usually to fill a need, most often money.
However, Dr. Goldschmidt pointed out, that drive can turn deadly if the armed robber feels that his or her safety or identity is being threatened.
In both of the most recent cases, the clerks complied and didn't fight back. Police do not believe Bala nor Trish knew the masked men.
If that is the case, Dr. Goldschmidt believes it could be a more complex killer, someone with the thrill to kill.
“If someone likes it, they're going to do it again. You'll end up with someone not just with a need, emotionally driven, but an ‘I succeeded, met my impulse, met my needs, and there's a good thing to that for me,'” explained Dr. Goldschmidt.
He compared it to gambling, explaining one win can push someone to gamble again, perhaps upping the stakes.
Even more worrying, is the downside of hitting that high.
“They're having desperate emotions, unable to handle these desperate emotions, or desperate needs and it ultimately leads to desperate behavior,” suggested Dr. Goldschmidt, speaking in general terms of what could happen if this is the case for the killers. This desperation could lead the men to kill again.
This is why officers are now racing the clock, with a task force in place dedicated solely to finding these criminals.
“These fellows are dangerous, not just to the community or to store owners, but to the people around them,” Lt. Denis said, adding that a SLED profile leads investigators to believe that those closest to the suspects will know if they committed the crime.
“No other family should have to go through this heartache, sadness…not seeing their face again,” Stull said between tears. In order for her family to begin to heal, they need to see the suspects captured.
Two $5,000 rewards are now being offered in connection to the two armed robberies at the Sunhouse Convenience Stores.