Suspect 'Hit the Gas' Before Running Over Mourners at Funeral: Family

The family had just laid their loved one to rest when they say a man drove into their

Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The family who was attacked by a man driving a car at a Columbia funeral says the last day has been difficult as they deal with the death of a loved one and the injuries to so many others.

Family members spoke to reporters Thursday morning after a bond hearing for the suspect, 64-year-old James Kester. 

"It's been  just very surreal and unreal the past," said Tamatha Altman, one of the family members who went to the hearing. "Just having to come here when all of our families are in the hospital right now having surgeries

Kester is accused of taking his car and ramming into a group of mourners at the Greenlawn Cemetery Wednesday afternoon, just moments after the graveside service had ended. A total of 12 people sustained injuries. 

He's charged with attempted murder for each of the victims, and had his bond set at $5 million.

Police believe Kester targeted the funeral because Altman's relative was a former employee of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. Investigators say Altman had resentment toward the agency because of an issue with his now deceased daughter, and apparently had found out that a DMH employee was going to be laid to rest at Wednesday's service. 

Police don't believe he knew the family members.

Altman said Kester went up to the family right after the burial and asked if the service was for her relative. A family member said yes, and Kester walked away. The family said he used her official name, not the name friends and family called her, which they thought was odd.

"The next thing we know is this car turned sharp right and just hit the gas and plowed into the middle of where everyone was standing," Altman said. 

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"Everything that ensued after that was just mass chaos," Altman said. 'He went 100 or more feet and his car looked like it was going to turn and head back, but fortunately, thank God, he hit a tombstone or either got bogged down into the dirt, I'm not sure. He ended up stopping."

When it did, family immediately began checking on each other, and started calling 9-1-1 for help.

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Altman told the judge about all the injuries her family   Six remain in the the hospital and are having surgery. One of them is in intensive care with a head injury.

At least one family member had their legs run over, and another was dragged on top of the vehicle. Other injuries include broken arms, legs, a shoulder and a hip. The victims ranged in age from 78 to 10 years old.

Altman said she didn't look directly at the suspect.

"I didn't look over at him. I didn't want to see him," she said. "I don't think I would have made it through, and I needed to be strong for the family, to get that statement out so the judge knew how serious it was and how emotional it is for all of us."

She said the family's faith has been helping them during the difficult time, and they began reaching out for support shortly after the incident.

"I just immediately started calling my church, calling people I knew and started prayer chains," she said.

"I have just felt that prayer and God's hands on us with all different things that have been happening and we appreciate all the messages that we have seen on Facebook, on some of the live feeds that are going," she said. "We really appreciate those prayers and covet them."

If Kester is able to pay his bond, he is to have no contact with the family, and cannot drive.

© 2017 WLTX-TV


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