Just two days into the beginning of his junior year at the University of South Carolina, 20-year-old Nicholas Donofrio’s life was cut short when he attempted to enter what he thought was his off-campus home.
Donofrio, a Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity member and exercise science major, had recently moved in with four of his close friends. But as he tried to make his way back home around 2am on Saturday, the young man made a mistake that would prove fatal.
Columbia police have said that Donofrio accidentally tried to enter a home a few houses away from where he lived on South Holly Street. According to authorities, the college student was mistaken for a burglar and died at the scene after he was struck by gunfire.
The department said in an update on Wednesday that Donofrio’s shooting was “justifiable” as he had been “knocking, banging and kicking” on the door of his killer. The man reportedly opened fire after Donofrio “broke a glass window and tried to manipulate the doorknob”.
The identity of the shooter will not be revealed after law enforcement and the solicitor’s office deemed he acted in self-defence under South Carolina’s broad “stand your ground” law.
Donofrio’s grieving family has declined to comment on the tragedy but remembered him as a “loving” and compassionate young man who had a bright future ahead of him.
Here’s everything we know about the case:
Who was Nick Donofrio?
Donofrio was originally from Connecticut, where he graduated from Daniel Hand High School in 2021.
He played varsity basketball in high school and was remembered as a charismatic player by his former coach.
His former basketball coach, Jimmy Economopoulos, said the tragic student was the team’s captain in his senior year.
“It’s heartbreaking. When [I heard] the news, my heart just sank,” Mr Economopoulos told CT Insider about the news of Donofrio’s death. “He was just a smart, engaging, charismatic young man. … It wasn’t the phone call I was expecting to get yesterday, that’s for sure.”
In 2021, Donofrio transferred from the University of New England to the University of South Carolina, where he was majoring in kinesiology and exercise science, according to his LinkedIn. Last week, his parents helped him move into a home seven minutes away from the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity’s off-campus house.
“Nick was a loving son, brother, grandson and friend. He was an intelligent, funny, sincere and compassionate person who worried about others,” his obituary read. “Nick was a deep thinker and his insights were often beyond his years. Nick loved working out, listening to music, and being with his friends.”
Classes at the University of South Carolina resumed on 23 August.
In the early morning hours of 26 August, a 911 call was initially made by a female regarding an ongoing burglary on South Holly Street but the situation later escalated to a shooting.
“Caller said the subject broke in the door,” an operator is heard saying in the emergency call obtained by WTNH. “The subject was hit. The subject didn’t gain entry. There is glass on the floor, glass on the door.”
Police have now said that Donofrio was “knocking, banging, and kicking on the front door of the man” when the female resident placed the call. While she was on the phone with 911 dispatchers, Donofrio reportedly broke the glass window and tried to manipulate the doorknob.
He was then shot by a male resident of the home who had retrieved a legally purchased firearm. Donofrio was pronounced dead at the scene.
“When officers arrived on the scene, they found a deceased male on the front porch with a gunshot wound to the upper body,” the City of Columbia police said in a statement. “Preliminary information indicates that Donofrio who resided on South Holly Street attempted to enter the wrong home when he was fatally shot.”
Neighbour Kate Reynolds told WLTX that the area is usually very welcoming and she was shocked when she heard about the tragedy.
“You think you’re going to be safe sending your kid off, you’re so excited sending your kid to school and something like this happens,” Ms Reynolds said. “It’s not how you want to start college and [have] something traumatic [happen]. You’re going to have those memories of your friend. The whole experience is kind of tainted with that, too.”
“This is usually such a more welcoming and friendly neighbourhood than that,” she added.
Will the shooter face charges?
The unidentified shooter is not expected to face charges.
The City of Columbia Police Department initially said it would consult with the solicitor’s office regarding the circumstances surrounding the case and whether charges could be filed.
But on Wednesday, the department announced that the gunman’s actions were justified and no charges would be filed.
“After consulting with the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office regarding the circumstances of the South Holly Street fatal shooting last weekend, charges will not be filed against the homeowner. As a result, the homeowner’s name will not be publicly released,” the Columbia Police Department said in a statement.
“The Columbia Police Department (CPD) and Solicitor’s Office have deemed the incident as a justifiable homicide under the Protection of Persons and Property Act.
“The determination is based on several factors to include evidence gathered at the scene, review of surveillance video that captures moments before the shooting, audio evidence, and witness statements.”
In South Carolina, individuals have no obligation to retreat and are allowed to use deadly force if they’re not engaged in unlawful activity and are in a place where they have a right to be — such as their home or place of business.
The state’s “stand your ground” laws also limit law enforcement’s ability to immediately arrest the shooter if they claim they were attacked first or acting in self-defence.
“This is a heartbreaking case for all involved. Our lead investigator has diligently worked to gather all the facts surrounding this incident,” Chief WH “Skip” Holbrook said. “He has also maintained contact with the Donofrio family throughout the investigation. We at the Columbia Police Department extend our deepest condolences for their immeasurable loss.”
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies