The homeowner who fatally shot a 20-year-old University of South Carolina student who tried to enter the wrong home on the street he lived on Saturday morning will not face charges because the incident was deemed “a justifiable homicide” under state law, Columbia police announced Wednesday.
Police said the identity of the homeowner who fired the gunshot that killed Nicholas Donofrio shortly before 2 a.m. Saturday will not be released because the police department and the Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office determined his actions were justified under the state’s controversial “castle doctrine” law, which holds that people can act in self-defense towards “intruders and attackers without fear of prosecution or civil action for acting in defense of themselves and others.”
Donofrio died of a gunshot wound to his upper body on the front porch of the home on South Holly Street, about 2 miles from the university campus, police previously said.
Columbia Police said the decision not to charge the shooter is based on several factors, including “evidence gathered at the scene, review of surveillance video that captures moments before the shooting, audio evidence, and witness statements.”
According to previously unreported details that police released about the incident Wednesday, Donofrio repeatedly knocked, banged and kicked on the front door “while manipulating the door handle” while trying to enter the home.
A female resident of the home called 911 as Donofrio kicked the door, while a male resident went to retrieve a firearm elsewhere in the home, the news release states. The homeowner owned the gun legally, “for the purpose of personal and home protection,” according to police.
While the woman was on the phone with police, Donofrio broke a glass window on the front door “and reached inside to manipulate the doorknob,” at which point the male resident fired the shot through the broken window that struck Donofrio in his upper body, according to police.
Police are awaiting toxicology reports from the Richland County Coroner’s Office “to determine the victim’s type and level of impairment,” according to the Wednesday announcement.
In a statement, Columbia Police Chief W.H. Holbrook called the case “heartbreaking” and said the lead investigator on the case maintained close contact with the Donofrio family during the course of the investigation.
“We at the Columbia Police Department extend our deepest condolences for their immeasurable loss,” Holbrook said.
‘The son every parent would wish for’
A relative of Donofrio’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News on Thursday morning.
In a statement provided to NBC affiliate WIS of Columbia, Donofrio’s family said he was “the son that every parent would wish for” and that he was “funny, smart, compassionate, and loved life.”
“We will miss him immeasurably,” the statement said. “We are extremely grateful for all the support we have received from family, friends, and the community during this tragic time.”
Donofrio is originally from Connecticut and graduated from Daniel Hand High School in Madison, a town about 20 miles east of New Haven, in 2021, Madison County schools Superintendent Craig Cooke and the school’s principal, Anthony Salutari Jr., said in a previously released statement.
A University of South Carolina spokesperson previously said in a statement that Donofrio was a sophomore and that the university’s Student Affairs team is providing support to students.
Donofrio was studying kinesiology and exercise science, according to his LinkedIn profile. He loved sports and was particularly passionate about basketball, and played in high school and on the University of New England’s team his freshman year before he transferred to USC, according to his obituary. In addition to sports, he loved “working out, listening to music, and being with his friends” and visiting Chipotle, according to his obituary.
Latest in a series of fatal shootings over mistakes
The fatal shooting is the latest in a string of similar tragedies, in which people have been shot — sometimes fatally — for making mistakes, which experts and gun control advocates have blamed on lax gun laws and increasingly incendiary mainstream political discourse.
Three of those tragedies that occurred in the month of April alone: the shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl in Kansas City after he rang the wrong doorbell, the fatal shooting of 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis after the car she was in mistakenly pulled into the wrong driveway in upstate New York and the shootings of two Texas cheerleaders — one of whom was injured critically — after one got in the wrong car in the parking lot of a supermarket.
Those shootings ignited fresh debate over “stand your ground” and “castle doctrine” laws that allow people to use lethal force in self-defense. At least 28 states and Puerto Rico have some form of a self-defense law that does not require a person to retreat from an attacker if they are in a place lawfully, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Stand your ground” laws, sometimes known as “shoot first” laws, have been at the center of a number of high-profile shootings, including the 2012 death of Trayvon Martin, the Black teenager George Zimmerman fatally shot in Sanford, Florida who was charged with murder but acquitted. While attorneys for Zimmerman, an armed neighborhood watch volunteer, didn’t use the “stand your ground” defense, it prompted greater awareness and public discussion of the law.