NATIONAL NEWS

Black Florida mother killed by white neighbor remembered for faith, devotion to 4 kids

Jun 12, 2023, 12:16 PM | Updated: 3:36 pm

Pamela Dias, front left, the mother of Ajike Owens, gets hug from a friend as mourners gather for a...

Pamela Dias, front left, the mother of Ajike Owens, gets hug from a friend as mourners gather for a remembrance service at Immerse Church of Ocala for Owens, Thursday, June 8, 2023, in Ocala, Fla. Owens was fatally shot by her neighbor Susan Lorincz when she went to Lorincz's door. Lorincz was arrested and charged in the shooting. (AP Photo/Alan Youngblood)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Alan Youngblood)

OCALA, Fla. (AP) — Civil rights leaders and ministers demanded justice during a memorial service for a Black mother who was fatally shot in front of her 9-year-old son by a white neighbor firing through the door of her central Florida home.

Ajike Owens was remembered Monday for her deep faith and devotion to her children.

During a three-hour service at a church in Ocala, Florida, the Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and others connected Owens’ death to the killings of other Black Americans in recent years, such as George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis.

“You can’t kill our loved ones, just because of the color of their skin, just because they were living while Black,” Crump said. “We cannot let them kill our loved ones for just knocking on a door, for loving their children, while Black.”

Owens, a 35-year-old mother of four who went by the nickname “AJ,” was killed June 2 in Ocala, about 83 miles (133 kilometers) north of Orlando. Her neighbor, Susan Louise Lorincz, 58, has been charged with the first-degree felony of manslaughter with a firearm, as well as culpable negligence, battery and two counts of assault.

Neighbors said Lorincz frequently called neighborhood children who played outside her home racial slurs and antagonized them, and that’s what happened 10 days ago when she yelled at Owens’ children as they played nearby and threw a pair of skates that hit one of them, according to the Marion County Sheriff’s Office.

Lorincz told investigators that she acted in self-defense, and that Owens had been trying to break down her door before Lorincz fired the gun. But Sheriff Billy Woods said last week that the investigation, which included eyewitness statements, established that Lorincz’s actions were not justifiable under Florida law. Before Lorincz’s arrest, the sheriff had said that because of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, he couldn’t make an arrest unless he could prove the shooter did not act in self-defense.

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 country.

“We are going to stand our ground for the humanity of AJ,” Crump said. “We are going to stand our ground for justice for AJ.”

Both Crump and Sharpton urged Owens’ children not to blame themselves in any way for what happened.

“Your mother chose to stand in danger’s way for you,” Sharpton said. “That’s what mothers do. That is why we celebrate your mother.”

Sharpton criticized Florida’s Republican political leaders for saying little about the case.

Sharpton, a former candidate for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, took particular aim at Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who recently launched his own campaign for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. DeSantis has championed sending immigrants from Texas to Democratic-leaning states and signed a slew of anti-LGBTQ+ laws that spurred the most prominent gay rights group in the U.S. and other civil rights organizations to issue warnings the Sunshine State may no longer be safe.

“You get outraged about migrants coming to Texas. You get outraged about those that have a different lifestyle,” Sharpton said. “But I’ve been checking my Google, I can’t find out: Does DeSantis have laryngitis?”

On a pulpit bedecked with pink and lavender flowers, relatives and friends described Owens as a woman of deep faith, who made sure her children were baptized, and she regularly attended church, sometimes dragging along a less-than-willing relative.

Owens’ mother, Pamela Dias, has said she will now raise her four young grandchildren, ranging in age from 3 to 12. They were promised scholarships by local ministers to historically Black colleges in Florida during the memorial service.

“Please don’t let our baby daughter’s death be in vain,” Dias said. “A change must come.”

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Black Florida mother killed by white neighbor remembered for faith, devotion to 4 kids