Conway reflects on 1-year anniversary of 'unbelievable,' deadly bank robbery

Conway reflects on 1-year anniversary of 'unbelievable,' deadly bank robbery

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Aug. 21, 2017 will live in many peoples' memories as the day they witnessed a celestial phenomenon. It was the day a total solar eclipse made its way across the entire state of South Carolina, beckoning eyes to the sky to behold a sight that many would experience only once in their lives.

Donna Major wrote about the moment she hoped to witness in her journal. According to an article from WMBF's news partners, My Horry News, the pages of Major's diary detailed how long it would be before darkness would consume the world again during her presumed lifetime.

But while putting pen to paper, she also foreshadowed a fate she couldn't have expected.

"The next eclipse is in 35 years. I will be 94 if I am still alive, but probably not," Major wrote.

A little more than an hour before the moon would overtake the sun above the city of Conway, Brandon Council walked into CresCom Bank with the confessed intention of hurting someone, according to FBI agents.

Council would allegedly become the darkness to consume the families of Donna Major and Katie Skeen when he pulled out a gun and shot the two bank employees at their place of work.

He told FBI agents he was desperate and he needed money, according to an affidavit. And one year later, he's facing the death penalty as attorneys battle over how his federal trial will proceed early next year.

ONE YEAR LATER

That's the last time we will say Council's name in this story because this isn't about him. It's about the families of Donna Major and Katie Skeen, their loss and how the city of Conway wrapped its arms around them in the wake of such a tragedy.

Conway is a big, little city. It's one of those places small enough that people tend to know each other, but it's big enough that tourists and outsiders are coming in and out all the time.

"They say hello, and they meet at the bank, and they really care about each other," Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy described.

She wasn't born in Conway, but she calls it her home. She also said she never could have expected what her first term as mayor would bring.

"We've been blessed with less crime generally and certainly less violent crime than a lot of municipalities our size," Blain-Bellamy said.

The mayor called the deadly bank robbery "unbelievable."

"It was the kind of news that just took a matter of minutes for it to even begin to sink in. We've never had anything like that ever happen before. I think it really touched the core of our existence," Blain-Bellamy said.

Thousands of bank robberies happen across the United States every year, but FBI data shows few, in recent years, were deadly.

The mayor said she was left in disbelief when she heard the news that one of these rare events left its mark on her city.

The crime was as foreign to the city of Conway as the man accused of committing it.

"This person coming from another place," Blain-Bellamy said. "I don't know that it's fair to say it made it better somehow, but I was relieved that it wasn't somebody that I knew. It wasn't somebody that lived here among us. It was a stranger. And as we assign this person's identity as being strange to use, I could also then identify his acts as something strange to this community."

Donna and Katie's deaths sucked the air out of those close to the situation. The women left home that morning with every intention of returning after work. But Aug. 21, of 2017 would be their last.

"I remember embracing the son of one of the slain women. I just remember how vulnerable he was and how hurt he was and how I sought some strength from within so that I could give him some of mine, and I recognized very quickly I had so little I couldn't conjure it up, but I could just stand there and hold him," Blain-Bellamy said. "I sobbed with him. There wasn't anything else that I knew to do, but it is what sticks to me the most, the vision of those women's families and how they were just empty. They were shells that day. They were what is left after everything is gone."

The city of Conway rallied around Donna and Katie's families. A small rock garden created to honor the two women would grow into a permanent memorial at Collins Park.

It was a simple gesture to show the families their community was hurting with them but also that there was still good in this world.

"I think the outpouring of love for the families involved is something that Conway does," Blain-Bellamy said. "It's who we are. It's the way we deal with tragedies in our lives and losses in our lives. But this was so tremendous that I think, oddly or not, that sometimes the very worst set of circumstances actually bring out the very best in people, in some people at least. I felt very, very proud to be a part of the community that didn't see this as somebody else's problem. They didn't sit and not be a part of that healing and making certain that everything was ok."

CRESCOM BANK: ONE YEAR LATER

The mayor said CresCom Bank added extra security measures since last year's incident. WMBF News reached out to the bank, and they gave this statement:

Today and every day, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Katie Skeen and Donna Major. Katie and Donna were beloved stewards in their community and touched the lives of so many people, from co-workers and church members to close friends and of course their families. They have left an inspiring legacy, and that is what the CresCom family remembers today. Looking back over the past year, we are thankful for the outpouring of support from many people and organizations. To the Conway community and beyond, we are in awe of the heartfelt generosity that you have shown the Skeen and Major families. With your kind words and prayers, donations, scholarships and even memorial gardens, you have commemorated these women with true honor and have shown their families endless love and support. To our customers, we thank you for your compassion, and to our employees, we are grateful for your dedication and positive spirit. It has been a challenging year for our CresCom family, but you all have banded together to support one another and persevere. And finally, to the families of Katie and Donna, there are no words that will hold a light to what you all have endured. We hope you find some comfort in knowing that you will always be a part of our CresCom family, and we will always stand alongside you as we honor your loved ones – today and every day. From all of us at CresCom Bank, we pray for peace and solace as we remember Katie and Donna.

HONORING DONNA AND KATIE

Out of the darkness of this tragedy comes light. Two new scholarships in the amount of $2,500 each were established in honor of Katie and Donna.

That money was awarded this year to children of two CresCom Bank employees.

Kenneth Turrentine received the Katie Skeen Scholarship to go to Horry Georgetown Technical College, and Kaitlyn Coleman received the Donna Major Scholarship to attend North Greenville University.

"We are very thankful to the South Carolina Bankers Association for creating these two scholarships in honor of Katie Skeen and Donna Major, while also selecting children of our employees as the recipients," said David L. Morrow, CEO of CresCom Bank. "CresCom Bank has been a proud part of the South Carolina Bankers Association for many years, and we are grateful to the banking community for showing their continued support of our CresCom family."

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