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‘Water or Life?’: South Carolina Convenience Store Owner Chased and Gunned Down Black 14-Year-Old Boy Falsely Accused of Stealing Bottled Water, Police Say

A 14-year-old Black boy is dead after being shot in the back by the owner of a Shell gas station in Columbia, South Carolina.

Cyrus Carmack-Belton was killed by 58-year-old Rick Chow after being falsely accused of stealing bottles of water.

Chow is the owner of the Shell gas station on Parklane Road, and he and his son chased Cyrus out of the store at approximately 8 p.m. on May 28.

Rick Chow
Rick Chow was arrested for fatally shooting 14-year-old Cyrus Carmack-Belton in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo: WIS News 10/ YouTube screenshot)

According to WIS News 10, Chow chased Cyrus from the store because he assumed he had taken the water and shot him in the back following the chase. Chow’s son reportedly told his father that the teenager was armed, and deputies allegedly found a firearm near Cyrus’ body following the shooting.

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According to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, surveillance footage showed that Cyrus was not shoplifting when he was chased from the store. The RCSD also said that there is no evidence that the teenager pointed a weapon at Chow or threatened him prior to the shooting, and Lott confirmed that Cyrus was running away from Chow when he was shot.

Cyrus reportedly took four bottles out of the cooler but put the bottles back before arguing with Chow and leaving the store. Chow’s son chased after Cyrus and Chow followed with a pistol.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said during a press conference on Memorial Day that the shooting was senseless.

“It’s senseless. It doesn’t make sense,” said Lott. “You have a family that’s grieving. We have a community that’s grieving over a 14-year-old who was shot. 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.”

Lott also noted that Cyrus tripped and fell while he was being chased by Chow and his son down Springtree Drive but was able to get up and keep running. That is when Chow’s son reportedly told his father Cyrus had a gun, and a few moments later, Chow shot Cyrus. Chow later turned himself in to the authorities and was charged with murder. According to Richland County Coroner Naida Rutherford, Cyrus was shot once in the right lower back.

Chow was in court at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on May 30 and was informed a bond hearing would be set for a later date by a circuit court judge.

A vigil was held on Memorial Day for Cyrus to honor his short life, and people placed candles, balloons, signs and water bottles in front of the Shell gas station as well as along the route he was chased to the spot where he was murdered. His name was also spray painted on the Shell owned by Chow, which was later vandalized.

People in the neighborhood are demanding that the store be permanently closed. Someone taped a cardboard sign on the door, which read: “Water or Life? Which Means More?”

Cyrus was a student at Summit Parkway Middle School, and the school district released a statement following the news of the teenager’s murder.

“The Richland 2 family is devastated to learn of the tragic death of one of our Summit Parkway Middle School students,” read the statement. “Our students, teachers and school staff are grieving and our district staff will be there tomorrow to support them through it. Our deepest sympathies go out to the Carmack-Belton family in their time of loss.” 

Several people who frequent the gas station described Chow as rude and “nasty” to his customers. One resident who lives near the Shell station, Linda Suber, said she saw Cyrus lying on the ground following his slaying.

“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.”

The woman who called 911 following the shooting wishes to remain anonymous but warned parents to watch out for their children.

“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’s 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.”

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