More than 250 people were at New St. John Missionary Baptist Church on Tuesday afternoon demanding justice for the shooting death of Ajike “AJ” Shantrell Owens last Friday night.
Anthony D. Thomas, one of two lawyers representing Owens’ family, the other being famed civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, was one of several speakers who spoke at the press conference. Crump was not at the event.
Thomas said the family and the community need justice for the unlawful killing of Owens. He said they, and the community, are standing in solidarity. Thomas said Sheriff Billy Woods said he wants to see justice and he’s going to hold him to it.
Owens was shot while standing outside her neighbor’s door the night of June 2 in Quail Run, located off County Road 475A in Ocala. Quail Run consist of single story duplex and quadraplex.
According to a press release issued by one of the family’s attorneys, Owens’ children were playing in a field next to one of the buildings in Quail Run, when one of the neighbors, who is suspect as the shooter, yelled at the children. The woman, who is white, is accused of calling the children racial slurs and ordering them to get off her property.
The children left but forgot an iPad, which was taken by the suspected shooter. When one of the children went back for the electronic device, the woman reportedly threw it and it hit a child, which cracked the screen, family members said.
Owens, who is Black, was told about the incident and went to the woman’s residence to find out what happened.
At the press conference, the audience was told that Owens knocked on the door, but it never opened. Owens was then shot while her 9-year-old son was standing by.
Neighbors told the Star-Banner that the 35-year-old woman was shot near her right shoulder.
Owens’ mother, Pamela Dias, said her daughter was full of life, and was the mother to four children, three boys and a girl. Dias said her daughter loved her children. She said with her daughter’s voice rendered voiceless, she, her grandchildren, and others are speaking for her. She said her daughter posed no threat to the shooter and is asking for justice for her and her children.
Kim Robinson-Jones, Owens’ best friend, said her friend adored her four children and made sacrifices for them as a single mother. Robinson-Jones said her children played in the same open lot and that the landowner gave the children permission to play there.
She, too, said she wants justice for her friend.
Owens’ son, Isaac Williams, thanked everyone for supporting his mother.
A cry for justice
Marion County NAACP branch President Bishop J. David Stockton, III said he wants a full, fair and transparent investigation into Owens’ death.
Stockton said the situation is a reminder of a young man who went to pick up his brother, knocked on the wrong door and was shot. Dr. Jerone Gamble said there was no reason for Owens to be killed and that the shooter should be arrested.
The Rev. Eric Cummings, a member of the school board, called the shooting unnecessary and wants justice for the four children.
Dr. Keith Blunt said the community has grown numb to similar situations and that needs to change. The speeches made by the various speakers were met with applause and cheers.
Why no arrest?
A few hours before the 3 p.m. press conference, Sheriff Billy Woods held a news event of his own at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.
Woods was joined at the event by one of the agency’s sergeants in the Major Crimes Unit and several Black residents of the community.
Woods said deputies responded to a trespassing call. Along the way, the deputies were told that someone had been shot. When deputies arrived, the sheriff said they performed life-saving measures on Owens.
To Owens family, Woods said he’s providing all of the resources for justice in this case. He said his heart goes out to them, especially the Owens children, who are witnesses and victims. He said he’s praying for the family and the children.
He pointed to a number of reasons why an arrest has not been made. First, the children wont’ be interviewed immediately after witnessing the shooting. He said they will rely on professionals for those interviews. Sheriff’s office officials said some of the interviews are expected to begin on Monday.
Secondly, Woods cited the stand your ground law, which he says restricts law enforcement officials from making an arrest without being fully sure there was no other alternative to the deadly force being used.
Woods said he’s asking the public for their patience as they complete he investigation.
The sheriff assured residents they want to gather all of the evidence before making a decision. In the meantime, Woods said if anyone knows any information, to come forward and tell detectives.
Preliminarily, Woods said the incident was due to a neighborhood feud that grew over time because the children playing nearby the residence of the accused shooter. He said there have been multiple calls about the dispute since January 2021. He added the shooter apparently threw an object at the direction of one of the children playing close to their residence. The sheriff said one child said he was going to tell his mother, which is Owens. That’s when Owens went to the residence where she was shot.
The sheriff assured the listeners that he wants the same thing as everyone: Justice.
Woods said he wished either the shooter or Owens would’ve called deputies to resolve the issue.
Reginald Landers, Dr. Hugh F. Brockington III and F.L. Brown, Black residents of the community, appeared with Woods at the media event. They said they have known the sheriff and his heart is in the right place. They said they’re asking residents to remain calm, let law enforcement officials do their jobs and to pray for the children.
Also present was Thomas. Woods said it’s good that Thomas and his department are working together. Thomas said the sheriff said they’re going to do a thorough investigation. He said they’re asking for an arrest, and want to make sure that it happens.
A GoFundMe page has been created for Owens children. As of 5 p.m. Monday, the campaign has raised $3,900 of its $25,000 goal. Contact Austin L. Miller firstname.lastname@example.org or @almillerosb.