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Police charged a gas station convenience store owner with murder Monday after he allegedly shot and killed a 14-year-old boy wrongly accused of shoplifting in South Carolina, officials said.
Rick Chow, 58, mistakenly thought Cyrus Carmack-Belton had taken four bottles of water on Sunday night, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said during a press conference. The teen ran out of the Xpress Mart Shell station in Columbia after a verbal confrontation. Chow’s son chased after him and was then joined by his armed father.
“Rick Chow shot this young man in the back and he killed him and he is going to be appropriately charged with murder,” Lott said during a news conference.
There was no indication that the teen and Chow had a fight in the store before Carmack-Belton ran away, the coroner said. She confirmed the teen died from a gunshot wound to the right lower back. The shot caused significant damage to Carmack-Belton’s heart and hemorrhaging.
Chow was charged after the autopsy showed the teen was shot in the back and deputies spoke to witnesses and reviewed surveillance videos, Lott said.
“It seems to be consistent with someone who was running away from the assailant,” Richland County Coroner Nadia Rutherford said. “This is not an accidental shooting by any means. This was a very intentional shooting.”
A gun was found near Carmack-Belton’s body, Lott said. During the chase, Chow’s son had called out that the teen had a gun, but there was no indication that the teen ever pointed a gun at the father and son.
There is a history of shoplifting incidents at the Xpress Mart Shell station in Columbia, Lott said. Chow had been involved in confrontations with customers over shoplifting in the past, but he never faced any charges. Lott said there was no evidence at all that Carmack-Belton took anything.
“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.
There has been outrage in the community since the shooting. Incorrect rumors have spread that the teen was kneeling or laying on the ground or had his hands up before he was shot, Lott said.
A peaceful protest at the gas station Monday night was was hijacked by looters.
“We had one tragedy the other night when the 14-year-old was shot. Why in the world did we have to continue to have what we had last night with people just going out and stealing and trying to destroy? That’s not what this is about,” Lott said. “That’s not what the family of that 14-year-old wants.”
Lott said looters will be arrested. The department has had to dedicate deputies to guard the store.
“That store did not shoot that 14-year-old. The person responsible has been arrested. He’s in jail. He’s in jail, exactly where he needs to be,” Lott said. “That’s where justice is being served.”
Chow was booked into the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center after his arrest, officials said. He appeared in court Tuesday afternoon, but the magistrate there said that under South Carolina law, he could not set bond for Chow, CBS affiliate WLTX reported.
The magistrate said a bond hearing before a circuit court judge would be set for a later date. Lott said Chow was legally able to have the gun, adding that he believes Chow had a concealed weapons permit.