Young Mason Hanahan never had a chance. Not at the very end of his short life, anyway. Certainly, this bright-eyed, eight-year-old South Carolina boy – a second-grader at Oak Grove elementary school and a standout third baseman on the local Dixie Youth All-Star league – had multiple academic and athletic opportunities opening up to him. Selected for the gifted program at his school and for his regional all-star baseball team, he was excelling in every facet of his young life – making full use of the many gifts God saw fit to give him.
As he slept peacefully on the living room sofa in his father Austin Hanahan’s home shortly after midnight on May 14, 2019, Mason’s future was wide open … literally the stuff of boyhood dreams.
At precisely that moment, though, the early morning stillness – and with it, Mason’s future – was shattered by a loud, crashing sound.
And after that … a barrage of sounds.
Half-awake, Mason reflexively pulled himself up off of the sofa to see what was happening …
The modest, four-bedroom home Austin Hanahan owned at 112 Cedar Vale Drive is located midway between Columbia, S.C. and Lexington, S.C. It stands just a few blocks away from the suburban baseball fields where Mason swung for the fences and fielded ground balls – and less than 2,000 feet away from the elementary school where he had recently been tapped to join the Eagles academic excellence program.
It is a quiet neighborhood, one where hard-working parents are supposed to feed their kids dinner and make sure their homework is done before tucking them into bed to dream of those bright futures.
Mason Hanahan had big dreams, too … dreams of playing in the big leagues one day.
Just a day earlier, in fact, his father had taken him to the local sporting goods store and bought him a new baseball helmet – celebrating his selection as a Pineview Dixie Youth All-Star.
(Click to view)
It had been an idyllic weekend for young Mason (above). In addition to the trip to the sporting goods store, father and son had gone to see the latest Avengers movie. And on this Monday evening after baseball practice, the last day of his young life, the pair had played video games together until he finally fell asleep on the sofa.
Mason was scheduled to return to his primary residence – his mother Tyler Hanahan’s home – the following day. In fact, he was supposed to have been with his mother on that fateful night – but his little sister had gotten sick and Austin Hanahan had volunteered to keep his son over for an extra evening.
And so as Monday rolled into Tuesday, Mason Hanahan was sound asleep on that sofa. What he dreamt of, we will never know … but we do know those dreams were jarringly, violently cut short.
Shortly after midnight, a loud crashing sound broke the suburban silence at Austin Hanahan’s home. The door to his kitchen had been kicked open by an unknown assailant, the initiation of what appeared to be a home invasion.
Armed with an AR-15 variant, Austin Hanahan – perhaps still groggy from the marijuana joint he had smoked earlier that evening – burst out of his bedroom to confront this unknown “invader.” As he moved into the living room area, he confronted the perpetrator – who appeared to have taken his part-time, live-in girlfriend Linda Lyn Monette as a hostage.
Hanahan fired at the ceiling above the intruder’s head in the hopes of frightening him – of getting him to release Monette from his grasp, according to statements he provided to Lexington county sheriff’s deputies. But the “invader” – armed with a yet-to-be-recovered 40-caliber weapon – was not deterred.
He returned fire at Austin Hanahan.
Startled by all the sudden noises all around him, Mason Hanahan was just now lifting himself up off of the sofa …
“HE WAS HOLDING HIS HAND …”
(Via: Lexington County Sheriff’s Department)
Police and prosecutors still do not know the identity of the killer who exchanged gunfire with Austin Hanahan during this botched robbery attempt on the morning of May 14, 2019. They know the elder Hanahan was wounded during the shootout, taking a bullet to the abdomen. They also know that at one point during the exchange of gunfire his AR-15 jammed, at which point he went back into his bedroom and retrieved a semiautomatic Draco assault weapon – a Romanian variant of the AK-47.
Two-and-a-half years later, however, the identity of the home “invader” who exchanged gunfire with him remains a mystery – a secret held closely by the cabal of criminals responsible for planning and orchestrating this fatal assault.
Police and prosecutors do know, however, that the moment eight-year-old Mason Hanahan lifted himself up from the sofa, he was struck almost immediately in the back of the head (next to the left ear) by a bullet fired from this unknown assailant’s 40-caliber weapon. This projectile exited Mason’s forehead and was later recovered by crime scene investigators in a wall in Austin Hanahan’s home.
“He never had a chance,” S.C. eleventh circuit solicitor Rick Hubbard told me last week, referring to the fatal head wound sustained by the young boy.
Mason Hanahan died moments later, cradled in the arms of a Lexington county sheriff’s deputy who responded to the initial 911 call of a “hostage situation,” Hubbard said.
“He was holding his hand when he died,” Hubbard said of the deputy, who arrived within minutes after the call was placed at 12:23 a.m. EDT.
Like Mason’s mother and his sister – and other friends, family and community members who mourn his loss to this day – the deputy “will never be the same,” Hubbard said.
As harrowing body camera footage captured young Mason struggling to draw his final breaths in the deputy’s arms, Monette – then 23 years old – was also caught on camera, frantically sending (and erasing) text messages from her cell phone.
Who was she messaging? And what texts did she delete?
Many of these messages have vanished into the ether – at least for the time being – but it didn’t take long for investigators to realize the scene confronting them was not some random home invasion.
FOR MONEY AND WEED …
(VIA: GETTY IMAGES)
Inside Austin Hanahan’s home that May morning were nearly two pounds of marijuana – including multiple hand-rolled joints, baggies and a large glass jar filled with pot. Linda Monette also had nearly a quarter-pound of pot in her possession at the time of the shooting.
Also in the house was $14,349 in cash belonging to Austin Hanahan – including nearly $2,000 in drug money and $10,000 which he had withdrawn from his bank accounts just a week prior to the incident. Hanahan may have withdrawn this money in an effort to keep it hidden from his wife prior to the finalization of their divorce.
Whatever the reason, Monette was with Hanahan when he withdrew the cash from the bank on May 7, 2019.
“She knew he had at least $10,000,” Hubbard said. “She went with him to the bank.”
On May 13 – the day before the shooting – Hanahan informed Monette his divorce was final. Believing he was about to put the $10,000 back into the bank, she hatched a plan to stage a home invasion – one which would enable her and her co-conspirators to make off with this cash before he was able to redeposit it.
In order to pull off the heist, though, time was of the essence – which is why Monette allowed the attack to proceed even after Hanahan informed her that his eight-year-old son would be spending the night with him.
Who joined her in this criminal conspiracy? Sadly, we do not know all of the names of those involved … but we do know it was a gang operation. And that Monette is alleged to have recruited its participants.
(Click to view)
(Via: S.C. Department of Corrections)
Monette (above) – an exotic dancer – was intimate with several members of the Gangster Disciples, a Chicago-based criminal syndicate which is active in the Palmetto State’s drug trade. Among her “intimates” at the time was then-24-year-old Reynerio Rafael Romero Jr. of Pelion, S.C., a member of the Gangster Disciples.
Monette and Romero Jr. appeared together in a rap video filmed at this same suburban home last summer. The video – BanC Boys “The Weekend” – was produced by Jacobz Digital and posted to YouTube in August of 2018.
Austin Hanahan did not appear in the video, which remains online.
Romano was originally charged with accessory to murder and criminal conspiracy in connection with the home invasion, however these charges were dropped after he pleaded guilty to an unrelated second offense cocaine trafficking charge on August 10, 2021.
S.C. circuit court judge George M. McFaddin Jr. sentenced Romano, now 27 years old, to fifteen years without the possibility of parole in connection with his cocaine trafficking plea.
“During the course of the investigation, law enforcement obtained a search warrant to access Romero’s cell phone,” a release from Hubbard’s office noted. “The search of the device revealed evidence of drug sales as well as numerous photos and videos that Romero previously posted on different social media applications for the purpose of advertising drug sales. Law enforcement also discovered posts that confirmed Romero’s gang affiliation.”
(Click to view)
(Via: S.C. Department of Corrections)
Unfortunately, Romero (above) is still refusing to give police and prosecutors access to the cell phone which was seized from him after the 2019 shooting – one which investigators believe contains multiple messages related to the planning of the botched home invasion as well as its chaotic aftermath.
These messages may even contain information related to the identity of the gunman who fired the shot that killed Mason Hanahan …
“We have his phone,” Hubbard told me last week. “When we (can access it), we will know what messages were erased by Monette.”
As long as Romero refuses to provide the password to this phone, though, Hubbard acknowledged it could take “months or even years” to get into the device.
As for Monette, now 25 years old, she admitted conspiring with others to stage the home invasion – and to “have a gun held to her head” as part of the robbery plan.
“Monette had knowledge of the large amounts of money in the home and that the residence did not have an active security system,” a release from Hubbard’s office noted.
During the course of the investigation into the assault, Monette “made multiple inconsistent statements which led investigators to focus on her ties to local gang members.”
On September 27, 2021, a Lexington county jury found Monette guilty of murder, criminal conspiracy, first degree burglary and attempted armed robbery for her role in the botched attack. S.C. circuit court judge Walton J. McLeod IV sentenced her to forty years in prison without the possibility of parole.
“We are grateful to the members of the jury who bore the weight of this trial for a full week,” deputy solicitor Suzanne Mayes said in a statement released after the trial. “We are thankful for the support of Mason’s family and that some degree of justice has been achieved. The murder of this precious little boy is incomprehensible.”
Like Romero, though, Monette still refuses to cooperate with investigators in their efforts to identify additional, un-apprehended perpetrators.
DON’T MISS A STORY …
As for Austin Hanahan, drug possession and child neglect charges against him are still pending. His case is currently being prosecuted by the office of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson. Hubbard referred the prosecution of Hanahan to Wilson’s office to make sure there was no conflict as it related to negotiations regarding his cooperation in pursuing charges against other defendants.
Meanwhile, Lexington county deputies continue their search for other gang members who planned and participated in the 2019 break-in.
“No tip is too small and any information is greatly appreciated by law enforcement and the family of Mason Hanahan,” a recent release from Hubbard’s office noted.
Will any information be forthcoming? Good question …
In a story last week, I referenced the April 2020 death of Knowledge Sims – a seven-year-old boy who was killed in the Capital Heights neighborhood of Columbia, S.C. during a drive-by shooting. Columbia police officers believe the individuals responsible for Sims’ death are known to members of the community, but no one is talking for fear of retaliation.
Make no mistake: I believe there is a special place in hell for those who kill – or conspire to kill – anyone (especially children). That goes without saying. But I also know this: I sure as hell wouldn’t want to enter eternity having kept knowledge related to the murder of a child to myself.
“To sin by silence …” right?
Similarly, I wouldn’t want to shuffle off this mortal coil having been negligently lenient when it comes to dealing with repeat violent offenders – a problem which continues to plague the judicial system in South Carolina (with predictable results).
This is why I am committed to telling the stories of victims like Mason Hanahan … because unless we are forced to confront the consequences of violent crimes like this one, then far too many people in positions of public trust will remain inexcusably deficient when it comes to summoning the courage necessary to combat this worsening epidemic.
Which will only lead to more “incomprehensible” tragedies …
A few weeks ago, at the beginning of the 2021 school year, Tyler Hanahan posted a message to her Facebook page. She was crying, she said, thinking of how she should have been seeing Mason off to his first day of fifth grade at Oak Grove.
“Always at the forefront of my thoughts,” she wrote, addressing her late son.
At the very least, let’s resolve to keep Mason Hanahan – and other victims of violent crime – at the forefront of our thoughts as we seek to build a better justice system in South Carolina. After all, that is the very least we can do to honor his memory.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that New York Knights’ lid from ‘The Natural‘ pictured above).
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