A white woman has been arrested for fatally shooting her neighbour, a Black mother of four, in what Florida officials described as the violent culmination of a two-year feud.
Ocala resident Susan Louise Lorincz, 58, was taken into custody on Tuesday on charges of manslaughter with a firearm, culpable negligence, battery and two counts of assault in the death of Ajike Owens, 35, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said in a statement.
The sheriff said Owens was shot through the front door moments after going to Ms Lorincz’s apartment on Friday night (2 June) in response to the latter allegedly yelling at her children as they played in a nearby lot and throwing a pair of rollerskates that hit one of the children.
Deputies responding to a trespassing call at the apartment found Owens suffering from gunshot wounds. She later died in hospital.
Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Owens’ family, alleged that Ms Lorincz had been yelling racial slurs at the children but that has not been confirmed by the sheriff’s office.
Lauren Smith, 40, who lives across the street said was on her porch that day and saw one of Owens’ young sons pacing and shouting: “They shot my mama, they shot my mama.”
She ran toward the house and started chest compressions on the stricken Owens until a rescue crew arrived.
Ms Smith said there had not been an altercation and that Owens did not have a weapon.
“She was angry all the time that the children were playing out there,” the witness said, referring to Ms Lorincz. “She would say nasty things to them. Just nasty.”
Sheriff Woods said that, since January 2021, deputies had responded to at least half a dozen calls in connection with what police described as feuding between Ms Lorincz and Owens.
“There was a lot of aggressiveness from both of them, back and forth,” the sheriff said Lorincz had told investigators.
“Whether it be banging on the doors, banging on the walls and threats being made. And then at that moment is when Ms Owens was shot through the door.”
The authorities had come under pressure to arrest and charge Ms Lorincz over the incident, once more threatening to drag the state’s divisive “stand your ground” law back into the spotlight, but Sheriff Woods insisted that law had no relevance to this particular case, which he said was “simply a killing”.
Ms Lorincz has claimed that she acted in self-defence and that Owens had been trying to break down her door prior to the shooting and that her late neighbour had previously attacked her.
After collecting eyewitness statements as part of their investigation, detectives were able to establish that Ms Lorincz’s actions were not justifiable under Florida law, the sheriff’s office said in its statement.
At a vigil on Monday, Owens’ mother, Pamela Dias, said that she was seeking justice for her daughter and her grandchildren.
“My daughter, my grandchildren’s mother, was shot and killed with her nine-year-old son standing next to her,” she said. “She had no weapon. She posed no imminent threat to anyone.”
An estimated three dozen mostly Black protesters gathered outside the Marion County Judicial Center on Tuesday to demand that the shooter be arrested in the country’s latest flashpoint over race and gun violence.
Chief prosecutor and state attorney William Gladson came out to meet with demonstrators and urged them to remain patient and wait for the investigation to be concluded.
“If we are going to make a case we need as much time and as much evidence as possible,” Mr Gladson told them. “I don’t want to compromise any criminal investigation and I’m not going to do that.”
Also on Tuesday, a stuffed teddy bear and bouquets were placed in commemoration near the area where Owens was shot as protesters chanted “No justice, no peace” and “A.J. A.J. A.J”, a reference to the deceased’s nickname.
Placards read: “Say her name Ajike Owens” and “It’s about us.”
Outside, the Reverend Bernard Tuggerson said the Black community in Ocala has suffered injustices for years.
“Marion County is suffering and needs to be healed completely,” he said. “If we don’t turn from our wicked ways of the world, it’s going to be an ongoing problem. We want answers.”
Additional reporting by agencies