Calls are growing for the arrest of a woman accused of shooting her neighbor Friday in Florida in an incident a nationally renowned civil rights attorney described as an “unjustified killing.”
The children of the victim, identified as Ajike “AJ” Owens, were playing in a field near an apartment complex in Ocala when, attorney Ben Crump said, an unidentified white woman, 58, “began yelling at them to get off her land and calling them racial slurs.”
According to Crump’s statement, after the woman yelled slurs at Owens’ children, they accidentally left an iPad behind, which the woman took.
When one of Owens’ children went to retrieve it, she threw it, hitting the boy and cracking the screen. Owens walked across the street to speak to her neighbor after she learned what happened, Crump said.
“She knocked on the door, and at that point, the woman allegedly shot through the door, hitting AJ, who later died from her injuries,” Crump said.
At a news conference Monday, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods did not confirm or reject Crump’s account, telling reporters he was not “going to stand here and tell you what they’re putting out there is inaccurate. It’s just I don’t know yet.”
Here’s what the sheriff said he does know:
- There had been a long-standing “neighborhood feud” between the shooter and Owens about her children. “I've got reports that one side or the other — either the mother, Ms. Owens, or the shooter — has called,” Woods said. “Complaining about the children — children being children.”
- The children may have been hit by a pair of skates. “Was something thrown at them? Yes, but not directly at them of what we’re being told now,” Woods said. “It just unfortunately may have hit them.” He added: “The children are a big part of answering a lot our questions.”
- When Owens came to the shooter's door, there was a heated exchange. Owens was shot through the door.
- At least two of Owens’ four children may have witnessed the shooting, which occurred about 9 p.m.
Woods promised Owens’ family his office will provide all resources available to seek justice in the case.
“I wish our shooter would have called us instead of taking actions into her own hands,” he said, adding investigators are trying to determine whether Florida’s “stand your ground” law applies in the shooting.
In general, Floridians can defend themselves with deadly force if they believe they are in imminent danger or death — and not only when they are inside their homes. A person being threatened is not required to try to flee.
“That law has specific instructions for us in law enforcement, and any time that we think or perceive or believe that ... might come into play, we cannot make an arrest,” Woods said. “The law specifically says that, and what we have to rule out is whether the deadly force was justified or not before we can even make the arrest.”
At a news conference Monday afternoon at New St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Ocala, Owens' mother, Pamela Dias, said her daughter was acting as a protective mother when she went to her neighbor's home looking for answers about why she treated her children like she did.
"The mother, the protector of her children, she wanted to know why this happened. A closed, locked door. The door never opened. My daughter, my grandchildren's mother, was shot and killed with her 9-year-old son standing next to her. She had no weapon. She posed no imminent threat to anyone," Dias said.
The Marion County NAACP president, Bishop J. David Stockton III, said the shooting is just the latest case of Black people living their lives only to be met by unreasonable violence.
"The truth is we've gotten to a point where Black folks are almost living in a day where we are afraid to go outside," he said. "Our children and adults deserve to live in a world where they do not live in fear of their neighbors."
Attorney Anthony D. Thomas, who represents the Owens family, said the community is closely watching how the sheriff's office handles the investigation.
"We need an arrest," Thomas said. "Make no mistake about it. We do support our sheriff. But at the same time, we want him to do the job that he promised that he would do, and we want swift justice."