Store Owner Charged With Murdering 14-Year-Old He Wrongly Accused of Stealing

A South Carolina convenience store owner has been charged with murder in the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old Black boy whom he falsely accused of shoplifting, chased and shot in the back on Sunday night, the authorities said.

The store owner, Rick Chow, 58, who was charged on Monday, believed that the boy, Cyrus Carmack-Belton, had stolen four water bottles from his Xpress Mart Shell Station in Columbia, the Richland County Sheriff’s Office said.

But Sheriff Leon Lott said at a news conference on Monday that Cyrus had not shoplifted and described the shooting as unjustified.

Still, at about 8 p.m., Mr. Chow and his son, whose name has not been released by the sheriff’s office, chased Cyrus toward a nearby apartment complex, where the teenager fell down and got back up, Sheriff Lott said.

Cyrus Carmack-Belton.Credit…Todd Rutherford

Mr. Chow’s son saw that Cyrus had a gun, Sheriff Lott said, and the store owner shot Cyrus in the back, killing him, the sheriff said. There is no evidence that Cyrus pointed a gun at the store owner or his son, the authorities said.

Describing the shooting as “disturbing,” Sheriff Lott said that even if Cyrus had shoplifted the water bottles, “that’s not something you shoot anybody over, much less a 14-year-old.”

Mr. Chow’s lawyer did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment on Tuesday night.

The shooting has prompted outrage in Columbia, where dozens of protesters met at Mr. Chow’s store on Monday. Later that night, the store was vandalized and looted, according to the sheriff, who urged protesters to be peaceful. Photos of the store showed graffiti on the building and yellow crime scene tape around it. Among the spray-painted messages were “RIP King Cyrus,” and his age, 14.

In the Columbia case, the Richland County coroner, Naida Rutherford, said at the news conference that there was no indication that Cyrus “was fighting with the store owner prior to him running out of the store.”

Cyrus had no wounds on his hands or scratches, she said. His only injuries were an abrasion from the fall and the gunshot wound on his lower right back, Ms. Rutherford said.

Mr. Chow, who legally owned the pistol used during the shooting, had in the past dealt with real shoplifting incidents and confrontations, the sheriff said.

But, Sheriff Lott added, “you don’t do what happened” on Sunday night, referring to the shooting.

State Representative Todd Rutherford, a Democrat who is also representing Cyrus’s family, said by phone that Cyrus, who was known for always having a smile, “did nothing wrong” and had been “chased down like an animal.”

He said he was unsure why Cyrus had a gun.

“It’s possible he felt he needed it to protect himself,” Mr. Rutherford said. “But in the face of confrontation, he didn’t use it.”

On Facebook, Mr. Rutherford wrote that what had happened to Cyrus was not an accident but “something that the Black community has experienced for generations: being racially profiled, then shot down in the street like a dog.”

Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

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