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The Independent

Funeral held for teen shot by gas station owner over false shoplifting claims as community shares outrage

By Andrea Blanco,


A 14-year-old boy who was shot to death over false allegations of shoplifting has been laid to rest in South Carolina .

Family and loved ones gathered for a funeral at the Second Nazareth Baptist Church in Columbia on Saturday to honour the life of Cyrus Carmack-Belton . The teen was shot to death on 28 May allegedly by the owner of the Xpress Mart Shell after a verbal argument over false claims that he had shoplifted four bottles of water spilled onto the street.

Authorities have said Cyrus was not stealing and had returned the water bottles to the refrigerator before he was chased out of the store and killed. The owner, 58-year-old Rick Chow, has been arrested and charged with murder after an autopsy determined Cyrus was running from his alleged killer and did not pose a threat.

During her eulogy, Cyrus’ mother remembered her son’s humour and wit, telling mourners she was grateful to have guided her son through life during his time on earth.

“I will miss you my sunshine, that infectious smile and unique laugh. Thank you God for entrusting me with your precious child by lending him to the world to teach us and shine his bright light upon us,” Ms Carmack said, according to ABC News .

Cyrus’ uncle Jimaar Carmack, who travelled from Texas to attend the service, also told Fox 57 that the Carmack-Belton family was thankful for the outpouring of support they have received following Cyrus’ tragic death.

“I will not kill another American over a drink, a piece of candy, a beer, a soda or anything of the sort. Life is more precious than a bottle of water,” Mr Carmack told the outlet.

The night before the funeral was held, dozens gathered for a community prayer vigil down the road where Cyrus was shot to death. Community leaders took turns to decry the senseless killing and demand justice for the teen’s family.

“I am angry,” Richland County Councilwoman Yvonne McBride said, per local news outlet WLTX . “I’m angry about what happened. I’m angry because a young innocent baby was taken brutally from us.”

Members of the community also expressed worries for their own children, noting that some situations could turn deadly due to the colour of their skin. Todd Rutherford, an attorney for the Carmack-Belton family, also told The Independent in a statement last week that he believed Cyrus was racially profiled by Mr Chow, who is an Asian American.

“When [his] mother sent this picture to me I had to do a double take because he looked so much like my middle son,” Mr Rutherford said.

“What happened to him wasn’t an accident, it’s something that the Black community has experienced for generations: being racially profiled, then shot down in the street like a dog. Words can’t describe the pain I feel having known this family for decades.”

Mr Rutherford has created a GoFundMe to support the family.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said at a Monday press conference that there was no evidence Cyrus was shoplifting.

“The video footage that we have seen shows him picking some items up, not stealing them, and then he politely and quickly put the items back where he found them,” Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford said in a video statement, noting that the altercation between Mr Chow and the teen did not become physical.

The teen then fled the store and was pursued by Mr Chow, who was armed with a pistol, and his son. Mr Chow legally owned the gun and it is believed that he had a concealed weapons permit, the sheriff said.

As they ran by nearby apartments, Cyrus reportedly fell and got back up. Sheriff Lott said Mr Chow then fired his weapon, striking Cyrus in the back. Mr Chow’s son had reportedly said moments before that the teen had a gun.

“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,” Sheriff Lott said. “You just don’t do that.”

Although a gun was recovered in the proximity of the teen’s body, authorities have said that the single shot that killed him was consistent with wounds that victims sustain while running away from an attacker. There is no evidence that the teen ever pointed the gun at Mr Chow, investigators say.

Deputies responding to the scene found Cyrus on the side of the road. A bystander was performing CPR on him before paramedics took over, according to USA TODAY.

Cyrus died from a single gunshot wound to his right lower back at the hospital. Coroner Naida Rutherford said the bullet caused a haemorrhage and damage to his heart.

“It seems to be consistent with someone who was running away from the assailants and so we are confident that this was done in a manner that we will now classify as a homicide,” the coroner said. “This was not an accidental shooting by any means ... This was a very intentional shooting. And unfortunately, Cyrus Carmack-Belton lost his life.”

Mr Chow appeared in court on 30 May and was ordered to be held in jail pending a bail hearing.

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