Store owner charged with murder for shooting teen he suspected of stealing water, police say

The owner told police he suspected Carmack-Belton of shoplifting inside the store, which the department said did not happen.
Published: May. 29, 2023 at 8:31 PM CDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS/Gray News) - A convenience store owner in South Carolina is facing murder charges after he shot and killed a 14-year-old boy he suspected of shoplifting.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department says the shooting happened at a Shell gas station on Parklane Road in Columbia, around 8 p.m. Sunday.

Rick Chow, who owns the Shell gas station chased Cyrus Carmack-Belton from his store and shot him just down the road.

“It’s senseless, it doesn’t make sense,” Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said in a Memorial Day press conference. “You have a family that’s grieving. We have a community that’s grieving over a 14-year-old who was shot.”

The owner told police he suspected Carmack-Belton of shoplifting inside the store, which the department said did not happen.

The department reviewed surveillance footage as part of this investigation.

“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,” Sheriff Lott said.

At one point, there was a verbal confrontation inside the store, but no indication that things turned physical, according to Lott.

Chow, 58, and his son chased Carmack-Belton down the street. The teenager fell but got back up and ran.

Chow’s son told his father that Carmack-Belton was armed.

Deputies recovered a gun believed to belong to the victim near his body, however, the department said there is no evidence that Carmack-Belton pointed it at or threatened Chow.

Lott said that Carmack-Belton was running away when he was shot.

Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford confirmed that the 14-year-old suffered one gunshot wound to the right lower back.

Linda Suber, who lives nearby, saw Carmack-Belton lying on the ground on Sunday night.

“It’s just sad, it’s sad,” she said. “If y’all would have seen that baby laying right there, that’s all I can say.”

Suber’s son Tavaris Bell was murdered on Broad River Road in 2006.

“Just to see him laying right there, I didn’t get to see my son laying where he got killed, but I saw him in the hospital, it just brought back memories,” Suber said.

One woman who saw the shooting happen and called 911 said she wants justice. She requested anonymity to speak candidly about the shooting and her experiences at the gas station.

“Do you even want to go in the store now? Because anything can happen now these days, and everybody’s getting trigger-happy,” she said. “I just really hope that he gets justice for it because that young man didn’t have to die like that. But for me to witness that yesterday, I’m in fear for my own brother, and for any of the kids that are in my neighborhood because these kids... they come outside all the time. They come to this store all the time. Now it’s like now you have to watch your kids.”

Rich Chow, a convenience store owner in Columbia, South Carolina, is charged with murder in...
Rich Chow, a convenience store owner in Columbia, South Carolina, is charged with murder in the shooting death of 14-year-old Cyrus Carmack-Belton.(The Richland County Sheriff's Department, WIS)

Lott said there have been incidents and confrontations between customers and the owners of this store before, but nothing that would rise to the level of charging Chow in any of those incidents.

Several people described Chow as “nasty” and rude to customers.

Various community organizations and advocates against gun violence gathered around the gas station on Monday.

The store was closed Monday, with a sign on the that read: “We are closed for Memorial Day. Sorry for the inconvenience!”

A cardboard sign had been taped on the door by a protester, which read: “Water or Life? Which Means More?”

Rutherford provided an update to the crowd shortly after 3 p.m. on Memorial Day, and there was loud applause when Chow’s charge was announced.

WIS spoke with one of Carmack-Belton’s brothers Monday. He said his family, especially his mother, is torn up.

Carmack-Belton was a good kid, very smart, and he did not deserve what happened to him, his brother said to WIS.