By MITCHELL MCCLUSKEY and CHRISTINA MAXOURIS
(CNN) – A mother of four was shot and killed in Florida following a longtime feud with a neighbor who had complained about the victim’s children playing outside, authorities and a family attorney said.
Deputies responded to a trespassing call Friday night and found one woman suffering from a gunshot wound, Marion County, Florida, Sheriff Billy Woods said in a Monday news conference.
The victim was identified by authorities as Ajike “AJ” Owens. She was 35.
The shooter, also a woman, “engaged” with Owens’ children and threw a pair of skates, hitting the children, the sheriff said. A witness told police there had been a dispute over a child’s electronic tablet device prior to the shooter throwing the skates at the children, according to an incident report from the sheriff’s office.
Following that interaction, one of the children went back inside their home and told their mother, who went to the neighbor’s home “to confront the lady,” the sheriff said.
According to the shooter, there was “a lot of aggressiveness” from both sides, as well as threats being made, and Owens was ultimately shot through the door, Woods said.
Witnesses told authorities Owens went to the shooter’s home and knocked on the door before she was shot, according to the incident report.
Owens was later pronounced dead at a hospital, authorities said.
The woman who fired at Owens has been cooperating with law enforcement, the sheriff added. No arrest has been made in the case.
Authorities have not named the shooter or shared any identifying information. But civil rights attorney Ben Crump, one of the attorneys representing the family, identified her as a White woman, according to a news release from his office Monday. The incident report also described the shooter as a 58-year-old White woman.
In a separate news conference held by Owens’ family attorneys, the victim’s mother said the neighbor who shot her daughter had called the family, including the children, racial slurs.
The neighbor’s door “never opened,” when Owens, who was Black, tried to confront her, and she was shot through the door, Pamela Dias, the victim’s mother said.
“My daughter, my grandchildren’s mother, was shot and killed with her 9-year-old son standing next to her. She had no weapon, she posed no imminent threat to anyone,” Dias said.
“What I’m asking is for justice. Justice for my daughter.”
Speaking to MSNBC Monday night, Crump said the fact that there has not been an arrest in the case is “appalling.”
“It is asinine when they try to justify this unjustifiable killing of this mother of four who was killed in front of her children,” Crump said. “It is heartbreaking on every level.”
A verified GoFundMe page to support Owens’ family had raised more than $30,000 by Monday night.
Sheriff references ‘stand your ground’ law
In Monday’s news conference, authorities pleaded for calm and patience as they investigated the shooting, worked to recover possible video footage and interview the children who witnessed the incident. The sheriff also asked for anyone with information to come forward.
While responding to criticism about how long the investigation and a possible arrest is taking, the sheriff referenced the state’s “stand your ground” law. The law allows people to meet “force with force” if they believe they or someone else is in danger of being seriously harmed by an assailant.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is that law has specific instructions for us in law enforcement,” he said. “Any time that we think or perceive or believe that that might come into play, we cannot make an arrest, the law specifically says that.”
“What we have to rule out is whether the deadly force was justified or not before we can even make the arrest,” he said.
Authorities had received reports from the two neighbors dating back to at least January 2021, the sheriff said. Those reports included calls from the shooter complaining about Owens’ children, the sheriff said, adding that it was “children being children,” either being on someone’s property or playing in front of the multiplex.
“Here’s what I wish: I wish our shooter would have called us instead of taking actions into her own hands. I wish Ms. Owens would have called us, in hopes we could have never got to the point in which we are here today,” he said.
“Pray for those children. Pray for each and every one of them. Their life has changed.”
The sheriff vowed to Owens’ family and friends that his office “is going to do everything to bring justice.”
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