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.
Rick Chow thought the teen had shoplifted four bottles of water Sunday night from his Xpress Mart Shell station in Columbia. But Cyrus Carmack-Belton put the bottles back in the cooler and was off the store’s property running away when he killed, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said.
A gun was found near the teen’s body and Chow’s son, who also was involved in the chase, told his father Carmack-Belton was armed after the teen fell as he ran, but the sheriff said there was no evidence the boy ever pointed the weapon at Chow or his son.
Chow, who had a concealed weapons permit, was charged after an autopsy showed the teen was shot in the back and deputies spoke to witnesses and reviewed surveillance and other video, Lott said.
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. “Same standard the cops live by.”
Chow, 58, was being held in the Richland County jail awaiting a bond hearing. Deputies said he turned himself in with a lawyer Monday, but they did not have the attorney’s name. The phone at the convenience store was not answered Tuesday.
There was no sign that Carmack-Belton was fighting with Chow before he ran out of the store and there was no injury to his body other than an abrasion from falling and the gunshot wound, Richland County Coroner Nadia Rutherford said.
Both the sheriff and coroner asked for calm from the community. Social media posts said the teen was kneeling or had his hands up when he was shot.
Rutherford told a crowd at the gas station Monday that the teen’s was shot while he was running and the bullet went through his back and into his heart. She told the crowd, which was 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 told the crowd.
Deputies have been called to Chow’s store numerous times in the last several years for shoplifting complaints and sometimes they turned into shoving or scuffling, but Lott said his officers determined Chow was defending himself and he was never charged.
But Sunday’s shooting was not justified, the sheriff 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.
Chow’s store was broken into Monday night with shattered windows and merchandise pulled off shelves and strewn across the floor, Lott said. When deputies arrived, a large group was inside stealing items, the sheriff said saying he plans to charge those involved.
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.
A sign taped to the door read “Water or Life? Which means more?” Another read “Close it down!” A third said the store would be closed on Memorial Day.
Occasionally, a car would park in the tiny section of driveway to take photos or someone would walk down the sidewalk taking cellphone video.
The day before, the coroner stood near the gas pumps, asking the dozens gathered there to not turn to violence to help the grief of the family of Carmack-Belton, who was a student at a nearby middle school.
“Please be peaceful,” Rutherford said. “This family does not need any more trauma related to his death.”