A South Carolina gas station and convenience store owner has been charged with murder after authorities said he chased and fatally shot a 14-year-old boy in the back because he thought the teen had stolen four bottles of water from him.
Rick Chow, 58, from Columbia, made his initial court appearance Tuesday in the killing of Cyrus Carmack-Belton, which took place outside the suspect’s Shell gas station late Sunday.
Authorities said that Chow believed that the teen – who was reportedly armed — had pilfered four water bottles from his Xpress Mart store, but according to Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, the boy put the bottles back in the cooler.
“The owners of the convenience store suspected him of shoplifting,” Lott said Monday. “He did not shoplift anything. We have no evidence that he stole anything whatsoever.”
Carmack-Belton left the store after getting into a verbal spat with the owner and was running away when Chow’s son gave chase. The store owner also joined the pursuit while armed with a pistol.
When the teen fell as he ran, Chow’s son told him that Carmack-Belton had a firearm.
That is when Sheriff Lott said Chow pointed his gun at the teen, who by then had gotten back up and continued fleeing, and shot him once, with the bullet entering his back and traveling into his heart, killing him.
Investigators later found a gun resting close to Carmack-Belton’s body, but Lott said there was no evidence the boy ever pointed the weapon at his pursuers.
Chow, who had a concealed weapons permit, was charged after an autopsy confirmed the middle-schooler was shot in the back and deputies spoke to witnesses and reviewed surveillance video.
Self-defense law in South Carolina requires the shooter doesn’t instigate the incident, believes he is in imminent danger and has no way to avoid that danger.
“You don’t shoot somebody in the back that is not a threat to you,” the sheriff said, calling the killing “senseless.”
The sheriff sought to dispel rumors circulating on social media, alleging that Carmack-Belton was killed while laying or kneeling on the ground, or that he had his hands up. Lott said none of those claims was true.
Richland County Coroner Nadia Rutherford also tried to set the record straight about the circumstances of the shooting.
“We’ve seen lots of things on social media today, even starting last night, with people saying that he [the victim] was kneeling down that they were standing over him that is not true,” said Rutherford. “[The shooting] seems to be consistent with someone running away from the assailants.”
Rutherford said there was no sign that Carmack-Belton was involved in a physical fight with Chow before he took off running from the store. She added that there was no injury to his body other than an abrasion from falling and the gunshot wound, which she said caused “significant damage” to his heart.
Both the sheriff and coroner appealed to the community to remain calm.
Speaking at the gas station Monday, Rutherford told a crowd of protesters yelling calls for justice to listen to the facts.
“I was at the autopsy I looked at his body inside and outside. He had one shot to the back which is why Mr. Chow is being charged with murder,” the coroner said.
Deputies have been called to Chow’s store numerous times in the last several years for shoplifting incidents, which sometimes involved shoving or scuffling, but Lott said his officers determined in those previous cases that Chow was defending himself and he was never charged.
Sunday’s shooting, which was triggered by a false allegation of shoplifting, was not justified, the sheriff said.
“Even if [Carmack-Belton] 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.
After Monday’s protest, Chow’s store was broken into, ransacked and vandalized with graffiti reading “Cyrus” and “14.” A sign taped to the door read: “Water of life? Which means more?”
When deputies responded to the scene, a large group of people was inside stealing merchandise, the sheriff said, adding he plans to charge those involved.
“What does stealing a case of beer have to do with a 14-year-old being shot?” Lott said.
Chow is being held in the Richland County jail. He is due back in court on June 23.
With Post wires
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