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Gas Station Owner Charged With Murder For Shooting Armed 14-Year-Old Accused Shoplifter

Columbia, South Carolina – A South Carolina gas station owner is behind bars on a murder charge after he allegedly fatally shot an armed 14-year-old boy who police said had wrongly been accused of shoplifting from his store.

The incident occurred at the Xpress Mart Shell Station on Parklane Road in Columbia at approximately 8 p.m. on May 28, The New York Times reported.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said 14-year-old Cyrus Carmack-Belton was inside the convenience store when the store’s owner, 58-year-old Rick Chow, accused him of shoplifting, according to CBS News.

Sheriff Lott said Carmack-Belton had removed four bottles of water from a cooler at one point, but that he had put them back, The State reported.

Chow confronted the teen about the alleged shoplifting and they got into an argument, according to investigators.

Carmack-Belton ultimately took off running towards the Springtree Apartments near Springtree Drive, The State reported.

Chow grabbed his legally-owned handgun and he and his son both chased after the boy, according to Sheriff Lott.

Investigators said the store owner’s son yelled out during the chase that Carmack-Belton had a gun, but they did not find any evidence that the teen pointed the weapon at Chow or his son, CBS News reported.

The sheriff said Carmack-Belton fell down at one point, then scrambled back to his feet, according to The State.

That’s when Chow allegedly shot him in his back, according to Sheriff Lott.

Investigators said they recovered another gun next to Carmack-Belton’s body, supporting the claim from Chow’s son that the teen had a gun, according to CBS News.

South Carolina State Representative Todd Rutherford, an attorney who is representing Carmack-Belton’s family, said he is unsure why the boy had a gun, The New York Times reported.

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

Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford concluded the teen died from a single gunshot wound to the lower-right area of his back and noted his injuries were consistent with someone who was running away when he was shot, The State reported.

His wound caused severe damage to his heart, as well as hemorrhaging, Naida Rutherford said.

Sheriff Lott said the shooting was completely unjustified, The New York Times reported.

“Even if [Carmack-Belton] 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 had done that, that’s not something you shoot anybody over, much less a 14-year-old,” the sheriff said.

“You just don’t do that,” he reiterated.

Chow was arrested and charged with murder on May 29 in connection with Carmack-Belton’s death, The New York Times reported.

Todd Rutherford said the shooting was intentional and that it illustrated “something that the Black community has experienced for generations: being racially profiled, then shot down in the street like a dog,” The New York Times reported.

Dozens of protesters converged on Chow’s store on May 29, according to the paper.

The business was looted and vandalized later that night.

“RIP King Cyrus,” someone spray-painted on the building, according to The New York Times.

Sheriff Lott said those who looted and ransacked the store only made things worse for Carmack-Belton’s family and the community, CBS News reported.

“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,” the sheriff said. “That’s not what the family of that 14-year-old wants.”

“That store did not shoot that 14-year-old,” he continued. “The person responsible has been arrested. He’s in jail. He’s in jail, exactly where he needs to be. That’s where justice is being served.”

Sheriff Lott said he has assigned deputies to guard the store to stave off further problems, CBS News reported.

The RCSO has responded to Chow’s store on hundreds of occasions in the past for incidents such as robbery, shoplifting, assault, vandalism, and motor vehicle theft, according to The State.

Chow, who had no prior criminal charges, has owned the store since at least 2012.

He was involved in two prior shootings at the business, neither of which resulted in him being charged, The State reported.

The first occurred in 2015, when Chow tried to stop a shoplifter who threatened to shoot him, according to the RCSO.

The store owner fired six shots into the side of a car during that incident, The State reported.

No one was injured.

The second shooting occurred in 2018, when Chow shot a shoplifter in the leg, The State reported.

The shoplifter later pleaded guilty.

The RCSO said Chow’s actions during the two prior shootings “did not meet the requirements under South Carolina law to support criminal charges,” The State reported.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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