South Carolina teen killed after shoplifting allegations remembered as ‘intelligent, humorous’

(COLUMBIA, S.C.) — A South Carolina teenager who police say was fatally shot by a gas station owner who they say had falsely accused him of shoplifting was remembered by his middle school as a well-liked student who was “intelligent” and “humorous.”

Cyrus Carmack-Belton, 14, died after being shot in the back on Monday, authorities said. The teen was chased from the gas station by the owner and the owner’s son after they wrongly believed he had shoplifted several bottles of water and was shot during the pursuit, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Office.

The store’s owner, 58-year-old Rick Chow, has since been arrested and charged with murder in connection with the teen’s death.

Cyrus was a student at Summit Parkway Middle School in Columbia, where he was in its STEM magnet program, the school said.

“He was intelligent, humorous with quick wit and well-liked by his classmates,” the school said in a statement on Facebook Thursday. “We remember his infectious smile and tenacity.”

The teen often spoke of his dreams and aspirations, which included owning a tattoo shop and “being famous one day,” the statement said.

The school said it was “blessed” to have Cyrus as a student and that he “will be remembered forever in our hearts.”

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott told reporters during a press conference Monday that the teenager did not shoplift from the Shell gas station, despite Chow’s belief that he did.

Law enforcement said there was a verbal confrontation inside the store before Cyrus left and took off running.

Lott said that “at some point” during the chase, Chow’s son reportedly said the teen had a gun.

Lott said the convenience store owner, who police said was armed with a pistol, and his son chased after the teenager toward an apartment complex.

Cyrus fell during the chase, got up and was allegedly shot in the back by Chow, police said.

According to law enforcement, a gun was found close to the teen’s body. Lott said Monday that police currently “don’t have anything that says that he did not have that gun on him” when asked if Cyrus was in possession of a gun during the incident.

Richland County coroner Naida Rutherford told reporters at Monday’s press conference that Cyrus died from “a single gunshot wound to his right lower back” that caused “significant damage to his heart and hemorrhaging.”

The Fifth Circuit Solicitor’s Office said Thursday it will determine whether any additional charges will be made in the incident once it has conducted a full review.

Chow has had two prior confrontations with alleged shoplifters that resulted in him firing a weapon — in 2015 and 2018 — but his conduct in those incidents “did not meet the requirements under South Carolina law to support criminal charges,” Richland County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Veronica Hill confirmed in a statement to ABC News.

Chow’s attorney declined to comment to ABC News in the wake of the murder charge.

According to a sheriff’s office incident report obtained by ABC News, the shooting was “not a bias motivated incident”; though an attorney for Cyrus’ family contends the teen, who was Black, was racially profiled.

“What happened to [Cyrus] 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,” the attorney, Todd Rutherford, told ABC News in a statement on Wednesday.

“One beacon of hope is seeing the resilience of the Black community as they wrap their arms around this family that has joined the club that no Black family ever wants to be a part of,” the statement added.

ABC News’ Teddy Grant, Deena Zaru and Brittany Gaddy contributed to this report.

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