Ocala, Fla. — A White woman who fired through her front and killed a Black neighbor was arrested Tuesday, authorities said, in a case that’s put Florida’s divisive “stand your ground law” back in the spotlight. The shooting sparked widespread anger and protests.
The Marion County Sheriff’s Office said Susan Lorincz, 58, was charged with manslaughter with a firearm and other offenses.
Ajike Owens, a 35-year-old mother of four, was killed Friday night in a shooting Sheriff Billy Woods said was the culmination of a 2-and-a-half-year feud between the neighbors. They lived in the rolling hills south of Ocala, a north Florida city that’s the heart of the state’s horse country.
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.
Susan Lorincz in mugshot after her arrest on June 6, 2023
According to the sheriff’s office, evidence showed that, over time, Lorincz had become angry over Owens’ children playing in a field close to her apartment.
On Friday night, the office said, Lorincz got into an argument with the children and “was overhead yelling at them by a neighbor.”
During the argument, the office continued, Lorincz threw a roller skate at Owens’ 10-year-old son and hit him in a toe. The boy and his 12-year-old brother then went to speak to Lorincz, and she opened her door and swung at them with an umbrella. They told their mother what happened and “Owens approached Lorincz’s home, knocked on the door multiple times, and demanded that Lorincz come outside. Lorincz then fired one shot through the door, striking Owens in her upper chest.
“At the time she was shot, Owens’ 10-year-old son was standing beside her,” the sheriff’s office noted.
Deputies responding to a trespassing call at the apartment Friday night found Owens suffering from gunshot wounds. She later died at a hospital.
When questioned by the sheriff’s office, Lorincz claimed she acted in self-defense and that Owens was trying to break down her door. “Lorincz also claimed that Owens had come after her in the past and had previously attacked her,” the office continued.
But “detectives were able to establish that Lorincz’s actions were not justifiable under Florida law” and she was arrested, the office said.
The manslaughter charge Lorincz is facing is punishable by up to 30 years in prison, the office noted. She’s also charged with culpable negligence, battery, and two counts of assault.
Billy Woods said in a statement that he wants “to thank Ms. Owens’ family for their patience as we conducted the diligent investigation that we were bound by law to conduct. Ms. Lorincz’s fate is now in the hands of the judicial system which I trust will deliver justice in due course. As I go to bed tonight, I will be saying a prayer for Ms. Owens’ children and the rest of her family. I’d ask all of you to do the same.”
Owens’ family members called for the arrest at a news conference Monday.
And at a vigil Monday, Owens’ mother, Pamela Dias, said she was seeking justice for her daughter and her grandchildren.
“My daughter, my grandchildren’s mother, was shot and killed with her … son standing next to her,” Dias said. “She had no weapon. She posed no imminent threat to anyone.”
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who’s representing Owens’ family, said in a statement that the shooter had been yelling racial slurs at the children before the confrontation.
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.
About three dozen mostly Black protesters had gathered outside the Marion County Judicial Center Tuesday 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 continued.
Woods said Monday detectives were working with the State Attorney’s Office and had to investigate possible self-defense claims before they could move forward with any possible criminal charges. The sheriff pointed out that because of the stand your ground law, he couldn’t make an arrest unless he could prove the shooter didn’t act in self-defense.
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.”
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.”
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.
The sheriff said that since January 2021, deputies responded at least a half-dozen calls in connection with what police described as feuding between Owens and the woman who shot her.
“There was a lot of aggressiveness from both of them, back and forth,” the sheriff 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.”
“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.”
Ferrell-Zabala said stand your ground cases, which she refers to as “shoot first laws,” are deemed justifiable five times more frequently when a White shooter kills a Black victim.
In 2017, Florida lawmakers updated the state’s self-defense statute to shift the burden of proof from a person claiming self-defense to prosecutors. That means authorities have to rule out self-defense before bringing charges. Before the change in law, prosecutors could charge someone with a shooting and then defense attorneys would have to present an affirmative defense for why their client shouldn’t be convicted.
In fact, 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.
In April, 84-year-old Andrew Lester, a White man, shot and injured 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, a Black teenager who rang his doorbell in Kansas City after mistakenly showing up at the wrong house to pick up his younger siblings. Lester faces charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action; at trial, he may argue that he thought someone was trying to break into his house, as he told police.
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.
Zimmerman, who had a White father and Hispanic mother, told police that Martin attacked him, forcing him to use his gun in self-defense. He was allowed to go free, but was arrested about six weeks later after Martin’s parents questioned his version of events and then-Gov. Rick Scott appointed a special prosecutor.
Before trial, Zimmerman’s attorneys chose not to pursue a stand your ground claim, which could have resulted in the dismissal of murder changes as well as immunity from prosecution. But during the trial, the law was essentially used as part of his self-defense argument. Jurors found him not guilty.