White woman arrested in fatal shooting of Black neighbour in Florida

A Florida woman accused of fatally shooting her neighbour last week in the violent culmination of what the sheriff described as a two-and-a-half year feud was arrested Tuesday, the Marion County Sheriff's Office said.

Ajike Owens, a mother of 4, was shot Friday

Hands hold a poster with a photo of a woman with black hair, smiling, with the words, Justice for Ajike Owens
A protester holds a poster of Ajike Owens at the Marion County Courthouse, on Tuesday, in Ocala, Fla., demanding the arrest of a woman in the shooting death of killing of Owens on June 2. The woman was arrested later in the day. (John Raoux/The Associated Press)

A Florida woman accused of fatally shooting her neighbour last week in the violent culmination of what the sheriff described as a two-and-a-half year feud was arrested Tuesday, the Marion County Sheriff's Office said.

Susan Louise Lorincz, 58, who is white, was arrested on charges of manslaughter with a firearm, culpable negligence, battery and two counts of assault in the death of Ajike Owens, a Black mother of four, Sheriff Billy Woods said in a statement.

Authorities came under pressure Tuesday to arrest and charge the white woman who fired through her front door and killed a Black neighbour in a case that has put Florida's divisive stand your ground law back into the spotlight.

In a video posted on Facebook late Tuesday night, the sheriff said this was not a stand your ground case but "simply a killing."

"Now many of you were struggling to understand why there was not an immediate arrest," the sheriff said. "The laws here in the state of Florida are clear. Now I may not like them. I may not agree with them. But however, those laws I will follow."

The video shared by the sheriff's office shows two detectives and a deputy escorting Lorincz, who was wearing shorts, a black top and a jacket, down a hallway. The woman's hands were behind her back as she walked.

Jail records show she was booked, but did not list a lawyer who could speak on her behalf. It wasn't immediately clear when she would make her first court appearance.

Claim of self-defence

When interviewed, Lorincz claimed that she acted in self-defence and that Owens had been trying to break down her door prior to her discharging her firearm. Lorincz also claimed that Owens had come after her in the past and had previously attacked her. Through their investigation — including obtaining the statements of eyewitnesses — detectives were able to establish that Lorincz's actions were not justifiable under Florida law, a statement from the sheriff's office said.

Earlier Tuesday, about three dozen mostly Black protesters gathered outside the Marion County Judicial Center to demand that the shooter be arrested in the country's latest flashpoint over race and gun violence. The chief prosecutor, State Attorney William Gladson, met with the protesters and urged patience while the investigation continues.

Protesters confront sheriff deputies at a courthouse in Ocala, Fla.
Protesters confront Marion County sheriff deputies at the Marion County Courthouse on Tuesday. (John Raoux/The Associated Press)

"If we are going to make a case we need as much time and as much evidence as possible," Gladson said. "I don't want to compromise any criminal investigation and I'm not going to do that."

Owens, 35, was killed in the Friday night shooting, Woods said. The women lived in the rolling hills south of Ocala, a north Florida city that is the heart of the state's horse country.

Stand your ground law

Woods had said Monday that detectives were working with the State Attorney's Office and must investigate possible self-defence claims before they can move forward with any possible criminal charges. The sheriff pointed out that because of the stand your ground law he can't legally make an arrest unless he can prove the shooter did not act in self-defence.

On Tuesday, a stuffed teddy bear and bouquets marked the area near where Owens was shot. Nearby, children were riding bikes and scooters, and playing basketball. Protesters chanted "No justice, no peace" and "A.J. A.J. A.J" using Owens' nickname. They carried signs saying: "Say her name Ajike Owens" and "It's about us."

Flowers and candles in the foreground, a pink teddy bear against a tree in the background
A small memorial to Owens is seen outside an apartment in Ocala, Fla., on Tuesday. (John Raoux/The Associated Press)

Outside, the Rev. 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."

The sheriff said Owens was shot moments after going to the apartment of Lorincz, who had yelled at Owens's children as they played in a nearby lot. He also said Lorincz had thrown a pair of skates that hit one of the children.

Deputies responding to a trespassing call at the apartment Friday night found Owens suffering from gunshot wounds. She later died at a hospital.

Before the confrontation, Lorincz had been yelling racial slurs at the children, according to a statement from civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who is representing Owens's family. He also represented Trayvon Martin's family in 2012, when the Black teenager was killed in a case that drew worldwide attention to the state's stand your ground law.

The sheriff's office hasn't confirmed there were slurs uttered or said whether race was a factor in the shooting.

Family 'relieved' arrest made

In a statement late Tuesday, Crump said while Owens' family is "relieved" that an arrest has been made, they remain concerned it has taken this long because "archaic laws like Stand Your Ground exist."

Lauren Smith, 40, lives across the street from where the shooting happened. She was on her porch that day and saw one of Owens' young sons pacing, and yelling, "They shot my mama, they shot my mama."

She ran toward the house, and started chest compressions until a rescue crew arrived. She said there wasn't an altercation and that Owens didn't have a weapon.

"She was angry all the time that the children were playing out there," Smith said. "She would say nasty things to them. Just nasty." Smith, who is white, described the neighborhood as family-friendly.

"I'm absolutely heartbroken," Angela Ferrell-Zabala, executive director of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told the Associated Press. She described the fatal shooting as "so senseless." 

"We've seen this again and again across this country," she said, adding that "it's really because of lax gun laws and a culture of shoot first."

Cases spark outrage

Ferrell-Zabala said stand your ground cases are deemed justifiable five times more frequently when a white shooter kills a Black victim. 

In 2017, Florida lawmakers shifted the burden of proof from a person claiming self-defence to prosecutors. Before the change in law, prosecutors could charge someone with a shooting, and then defence attorneys would have to present an affirmative defence for why their client shouldn't be convicted. Now authorities must rule out self-defence before bringing charges. 

Stand your ground and "castle doctrine" cases — which allow residents to defend themselves either by law or court precedent when threatened — have sparked outrage amid a spate of shootings across the U.S.

Missouri and Florida are among about 30 states that have stand your ground laws. The most well-known examples of the stand your ground argument came up in the trial of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in 2012.

At a vigil Monday in Ocala, 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 9-year-old son standing next to her," Dias said. "She had no weapon. She posed no imminent threat to anyone."