COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina gas station owner was charged Monday with murder in the death of a 14-year-old boy whom he allegedly chased from the store and shot in the back, the sheriff said.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference that station owner Rick Chow incorrectly suspected Cyrus Carmack-Belton had shoplifted bottles of water from the Xpress Mart Shell station in Columbia. After a verbal confrontation, the sheriff said Carmack-Belton fled and was pursued by Chow’s son.
Chow joined the chase, armed with a pistol, Lott said. As they ran by nearby apartments, Carmack-Belton fell and got back up and Chow fired, striking Carmack-Belton in the back. Chow’s son said the teen had a gun, and investigators did find a gun close to Carmack-Belton’s body, Lott said.
“Even if he had shoplifted four bottles of water, which he had taken out of the cooler and then put back — even if he had done that, that’s not something you should shoot anybody over, much less a 14-year-old,” Lott said. “You just don’t do that.”
Deputies responding to a report of a shooting around 8 p.m. Sunday found a gunshot victim on the side of the road, and he was pronounced dead at a hospital, according to an initial news release on the shooting.
Carmack-Belton died from a single gunshot wound to his right lower back, Coroner Naida Rutherford said at the news conference.
“It seems to be consistent with someone who was running away from the assailants and so we are confident that this was done in a manner that we will now classify as a homicide. This was not an accidental shooting by any means,” Rutherford said. “This was a very intentional shooting. And unfortunately, Cyrus Carmack-Belton lost his life.”
There was no sign that Carmack-Belton was fighting with Chow before he ran out of the store, Rutherford said. There was no injury to his body other than an abrasion from falling and the gunshot wound, she said.
Chow legally owned the gun and it is believed that he had a concealed weapons permit, Lott said.
There had been previous shoplifting incidents and assaults on the owner and his family at the store, but previous incidents didn’t rise to the level where he should have been charged, Lott said.
“Last night it rose to that level and that’s why he’s charged with murder today,” Lott said.
The sheriff’s office said a crowd of people was dispersed from the station Monday night after protests there turned destructive. When deputies arrived, they found shattered windows and a large crowd of people inside the store stealing merchandise. Lott said in a statement those involved would be identified and prosecuted.
The entire gas station was behind yellow crime scene tape Tuesday morning. Dozens of crushed water bottles littered the parking lot. Graffiti, most of it “Cyrus” or “14” covered the walls.
Occasionally, a car would park in the tiny section of driveway to take photos or someone would walk down the sidewalk taking cellphone video.