South Carolina store owner faces charges of murder after fatally shooting teenager in water theft incident

South Carolina store owner is facing a murder charge after shooting a teenager who he thought stole water. The owner has been involved in shootings in the past but claimed self defense.
  • This week, a South Carolina store owner was charged with murder for fatally shooting 14-year old boy who he believed to have stolen water.
  • Authorities claim that the store owner fired at two suspected shoplifters in the last eight years, but was never charged.
  • Rick Chow is awaiting a hearing to determine his bond. If convicted, he could be sentenced for 30 years or life.

Authorities said that a South Carolina store owner who was charged with murder after shooting an alleged shoplifter he mistakenly believed stole water, had shot suspected shoplifters twice before in the last eight years without being charged.

Richland County Sheriffs said that in 2018, Rick Chow confronted a man who was shoplifting at his Xpress Mart Shell Station in Columbia. The man then attacked Chow. Investigators say that Chow shot two shots, and the man suffered a leg injury. The man has pleaded guilty in this case.

Deputies reported that in 2015, Chow shot several shots at a car after he attempted to stop someone whom he suspected was shoplifting. The suspect then got into the car and threatened to shoot Chow. No one was injured.

Authorities in both cases said Chow’s actions were not illegal. In South Carolina, the self-defense law requires that the shooter not initiate the incident and believes he’s in immediate danger.

Deputies determined that this was not the case when they decided Sunday that Chow and son chased the 14-year old from his store, and shot him in the back. Chow has been charged with murder. The prosecution said that once the investigation was completed and police presented their findings, it would be possible to bring additional charges against Chow.


Chow believed the boy, Cyrus Carmack Belton, had stolen four bottles of water. But investigators found that store video showed the Black Cyrus Carmack belton putting the bottles back into the cooler. Carmack-Belton left the store after an argument and was still running when he died, according to Sheriff Leon Lott.

Lott stated that a gun was found close to the body of the teenager, and Chow’s son informed his father after falling down while running, that Carmack-Belton had been armed. The sheriff, however, said that there was no proof the boy pointed the gun at Chow or Chow’s son.

The sheriff’s department did not release any additional information regarding the two other shooting incidents. Deputies were called to Chow’s store in northeast Richland County, suburban, hundreds of times during the last five years, for assaults and shoplifting. They also responded to motor vehicle thefts, vandalisms, burglaries, and robberies.

Authorities say that they are currently working on gathering the police reports for these incidents. A number of media outlets has made requests to open records regarding those incidents.

Chow, aged 58, is in Richland County Jail , where he awaits a bond hearing . At this time, his lawyer said that he would not be discussing the case. If Chow is convicted of murder, he could face 30 years up to life imprisonment.

On June 1, 2023 in Columbia, South Carolina, mourners stop at a memorial for Cyrus Carmack Belton. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

Chow had a legal gun, but Lott stated that neither nor the surveillance videos of witnesses provided any evidence to indicate that he was afraid for his life.

The sheriff stated that “you don’t shoot someone in the back who is not a danger to you.”

After the shooting, anguish and grief swept through the African American Community in Richland County where almost half of the population is Black.

Jim Clyburn (Democratic Rep.), the state’s sole Black congressman, said that Carmack-Belton’s family should celebrate his eighth grade graduation and his move to high school, rather than mourning his death on Saturday.

Clyburn stated in a press release that “the criminalization of Black boys and men, and the historical trend of portraying them as aggressors has time and again lead to fatal and heartbreaking situations.” “Carmack-Belton was declared innocent in the past, but his alleged crime of shoplifting an empty bottle of water shouldn’t have taken his life. I pray that justice will be swift.”


Chow’s race is listed in court records as Asian.

A sign with the words “Justice for Cyrus” and balloons have been placed at the site where Cyrus fell.

A group of about a dozen people gathered in the store on Monday to hold a peaceful protest. They poured water onto the floor, spelled out “Cyrus,” with empty bottles, and taped a sign that read “Water or Life?” to the locked front door. Which is more important?”

Deputies reported that after dark a group of people spray painted the store “Cyrus,” “14,” and broke windows, and began stealing cigarettes, beer and other items. Lott said that when the looters are found, they will face charges.

Now the entire gas station has been covered with yellow crime scene tape. The deputies placed a portable camera surveillance unit in the parking area. A sign that reads “Justice 4 Cyrus”, leans up against the sign advertising gas prices.

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