By Antonio Planas - NBC News
More and more people are calling for the arrest of a 58-year-old woman accused of shooting her neighbor Friday in Ocala, Florida, in a case called an "unjustified murder" by renowned civil rights attorney Ben Crump.
The children of the victim, Ajike AJ Owens, were playing in a field near an apartment complex when, according to Crump, an unidentified white woman "began yelling at them to leave their property and insulting them with racist offenses."
Owens' children accidentally left an iPad that the neighbor took. When one of them tried to retrieve it, she threw it, hitting the child and breaking the screen. Owens crossed the street to speak with the woman after learning what happened, Crump said.
"He knocked on the door and, at that point, the woman allegedly fired through the door, wounding AJ, who later died from his injuries," he said.
Ajike "AJ" OwensBen Crump / via Twitter
Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods neither confirmed nor rejected Crump's account at a news conference Monday. Woods said he couldn't "tell them that what they're publishing is inaccurate. I just don't know yet."
Here's what the sheriff claimed to know:
- There was a long-running dispute between the neighbor and Owens over her children.
- Children may have been hit with an unspecified object. "Was something thrown away? Yes, but not directly against them, as far as we know so far," Woods said. "It simply, unfortunately, may have hit them." He added: "Children are a big part of the answer to many of our questions."
- As Owens approached the door of the suspect's home, a heated argument ensued and the victim was wounded by a gunshot that went through the door.
- At least two of Owens' four children may have witnessed the shooting, which occurred at about 9 p.m.
- Woods promised the victim's family that he will provide all available resources to seek justice in the case.
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"I wish the suspect had called us instead of taking the law into her own hands," he said, adding that investigators are trying to determine whether Florida's Stand your ground law applies to the case.
Under the rule, Floridians can defend themselves with lethal force if they believe they are in imminent danger of death, and not just when they are inside their homes. A threatened person is not obliged to try to escape.
"That law has specific instructions for us and law enforcement, and anytime we think or perceive or believe it 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 or not deadly force was justified before we can make the arrest."
[A police officer shoots an 11-year-old boy who called 911 for help in the chest: "Why did this happen to me?"]
Owens' mother, Pamela Dias, said Monday at a news conference at New St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Ocala that her daughter acted as a protective mother when she went to her neighbor to ask for explanations of why she treated the children that way.
"The mother, the protector of her children, wanted to know why this had happened. A locked door. The door never opened. My daughter, the mother of my grandchildren, was wounded and killed while her 9-year-old son was standing next to her. She was not armed. It didn't pose an imminent threat to anyone," Dias said.
Bishop J. David Stockton III, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Marion County, said the shooting is the latest case of black people living their lives alone and being senselessly abused because of it.
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"The truth is, we've gotten to the point where black people almost live in the day we're afraid to come out," he said. "Our children and adults deserve to live in a world where they don't exist in fear of their neighbors."
Attorney Anthony D. Thomas, who represents the Owens family, said the community is watching closely how police are handling the investigation.
"We need an arrest," Thomas said. "Make no mistake about it. We support the sheriff but at the same time we want him to do the job he promised he would do and for there to be swift justice."