OCALA, Florida (AP) — A Florida mother was fatally shot through the front door of her neighbour's home while her nine-year-old son stood next to her, a violent culmination of what police said was a 2½-year feud.
Ajike Owens, 35, was fatally shot after going to the Ocala apartment of her neighbour, who earlier had yelled at Owens' children as they played nearby and threw a pair of skates that hit one of them, Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods said at a news conference Monday.
Deputies responding to a trespassing call at the apartment Friday night found Owens suffering from gunshot wounds. The mother of four was taken to a nearby hospital, where she died. Ocala is about 70 miles (110 kilometres) northwest of Orlando.
"I wish our shooter would have called us instead of taking actions into her own hands," Woods said. "I wish Ms Owens would have called us in the hopes we could have never gotten to the point at which we are here today."
Since January 2021, Woods said, deputies responded at least a half-dozen times in connection with the feuding between Owens and the woman who shot her. The sheriff's office hasn't arrested or identified the shooter.
Woods said detectives are working with the State Attorney's Office and must investigate possible self-defense claims before they can move forward with any possible criminal charges.
The sheriff pointed out that because of Florida's "stand your ground" law, he can't legally make an arrest unless he can prove the shooter did not act in self-defense.
Before the shooting, Owens' children had been playing in a field near the shooter's apartment. When Owens later confronted the woman at her apartment, an argument ensued, and the woman shot Owens through the front door, according to police.
Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing Owens' family, said in a statement that the shooter had been yelling racial slurs at the children before the confrontation with their mother. Owens and her children are black.
The sheriff's office hasn't confirmed there were slurs uttered or said whether race was a factor in the shooting.
Woods also said they haven't interviewed Owens' children, who witnessed the shooting, because investigators first want child therapists to work with them. Most of the information the deputies have is coming from the shooter, Woods said.
"There was a lot of aggressiveness from both of them, back and forth," Wood said the shooter 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."
Woods was joined at his news conference by community leaders and a local attorney retained by the family, Anthony Thomas. Their singular message was a call for patience while the sheriff's office conducted its investigation.
During a vigil with the family later Monday, Thomas said the sheriff had promised him the most professional service that he and his deputies could provide, and Thomas plans to hold the agency to that.
During the same gathering, 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," Dias said. "She had no weapon. She posed no imminent threat to anyone."