The owner of a Shell gas station and convenience store in Columbia, South Carolina, is charged with murder in the death of a 14-year-old boy “who did not shoplift anything,” authorities say.
Speaking to reporters on Memorial Day, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said that the facts of the case “are very disturbing as they are.”
Rick Chow, 58, allegedly chased after Cyrus Carmack-Belton around 8 p.m. on Sunday and shot the teen in the back even though there was no evidence that the victim shoplifted water bottles, no evidence of a physical confrontation, and no evidence that the armed 14-year-old had pointed his firearm at the suspect, the sheriff said.
“The owners of the convenience store suspected him of shoplifting,” Lott said. “He did not shoplift anything. We have no evidence that he stole anything whatsoever.”
The sheriff said that Carmack-Belton “took off running” after a “verbal confrontation inside the convenience store” at 7441 Parklane Road.
“The son of the owner of the convenience store gave chase. The father who owns the convenience store joined in the chase. He was armed with a pistol,” Lott continued, noting that the location of the shooting “was not even on the property of the store.”
Instead, Carmack-Belton was shot at the nearby Springtree Apartments, authorities said.
“At some point, the [suspect’s] son said that he had a gun — that the victim had a gun — and we did recover a gun that was close to his body,” Lott said. “At that point the father shot the young man in the back. He was not laying on the ground. He did not have his hands up.”
Even if Carmack-Belton had stolen water bottles, the sheriff said, that is not the kind of offense that warrants death.
“Regardless, even if he had shoplifted four bottles of water, which is what he initially took out of the cooler and then he put them back, even if he’d done that, that’s not something you shoot anybody over, much less a 14-year-old, but you just don’t do that,” Lott said.
The sheriff did say, however, that Chow’s gas station convenience store “has had lots of shoplifting incidents in the past,” some of the incidents dating back years.
“There’s been many instances there, where this store owner has confronted people that’s been shoplifting,” Lott said. “There’s been assaults on his family, too. He has not been charged in any of these other cases because they did not rise to the level where he should have been charged. Last night it rose to that level, and that’s why he’s charged with murder today.”
The sheriff said that the totality of the evidence showed that Chow wasn’t justified in shooting Carmack-Belton, even though the teen had a gun.
“What clouded the issue is that the victim did have a gun. There was a confrontation. We had to make sure that those who fired the shots did not have that gun pointed at them, and they did not — in legal terms — be in fear of their life,” the sheriff said. “Rick Chow shot this young man in the back and he killed him.”
“You don’t shoot someone in the back who’s not a threat to you. That’s the same standard that we do — the same standard that cops live by. You have to be defending someone’s life or your life, and there has to be an immediate danger to you at that point,” Lott emphasized. “And someone who is running away, and there’s no indication that he was pointing a gun at anybody when he was running away, he was shot in the back.”
Lott said that investigators believe Chow “had a concealed weapons permit” and that the “firearm was legally owned.”
Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford told reporters that the victim died of a gunshot wound to his right lower back.
“The fatal shot caused significant damage to his heart and hemorrhaging,” she said.
Both the coroner and the sheriff sought to dispel rumors circulating in the community about 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.”
“This is not an accidental shooting by any means. This was a very intentional shooting, and unfortunately Cyrus Carmack-Belton lost his life,” the coroner added.
The coroner noted there was no indication in the evidence of a physical altercation prior to the shooting, only a verbal one.
On Monday night, Chow’s store was visibly vandalized with graffiti, windows were broken, and merchandise was stolen. One sign put up on a window said, “Rick murdered a child.”
“This type of criminal behavior will not be tolerated,” the sheriff said. “Individuals involved will be identified and prosecuted.”
Chow, listed in court records under the name Chikei Rick Chow, has a bond hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. A first appearance is currently set for June 23.
Richland County court records only showed a seat belt violation case and several speeding cases against Chow between 2013 and 2017.
Richland School District Two confirmed in a statement that Carmack-Belton was a student at Summit Parkway Middle School.
“The Richland 2 family is devastated to learn of the tragic death of one of our Summit Parkway Middle School students,” the statement said. “Our students, teachers and school staff are grieving and our district staff will be there tomorrow to support them through it. Our deepest sympathies go out to the Carmack-Belton family in their time of loss.”
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