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Family of Marion County mom fatally shot through a closed door calls for shooter's arrest

A woman speaks at a press conference.
Joe Byrnes
Pamela Dias, the mother of Ajike "AJ" Owens, speaks at a press conference in Ocala on Monday. Owens was shot and killed Friday by a neighbor, who fired a gun through a closed door. Three of Owens' four children appeared at the press conference with their grandmother.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office is urging calm and promising justice after a 35-year-old woman was killed when she was shot by her neighbor through the neighbor's door Friday night.

Deputies have not arrested — or named — the shooter, who is a middle-aged woman.

The sheriff says they are trying to rule out a possible stand-your-ground defense.

The slain woman — Ajike “AJ” Owens — was Black, and the shooter is white. The Sheriff's Office has not described the incident as racially motivated, highlighting instead a neighborhood feud, but attorneys for Owens' family said the shooter used racial slurs with the children.

Sheriff describes 'neighborhood feud'

 A woman smiles.
Family Photo
Anthony Thomas
Ajike Shantrell Owens, 35, was shot and killed by her neighbor who fired a gun through a closed door.

Owens was the mother of four young children.

Lawyers for her family said the kids were confronted by the neighbor Friday evening while they played near their Quail Run apartments south of Ocala.

Sheriff Billy Woods said the shooter threw a pair of skates at Owens' children, hitting at least one child. He said the dispute was part of a long-standing neighborhood feud.

But he said details of Friday's encounter were not clear, because detectives had not questioned the children yet.

They did question the shooter.

Shooting through a door

At about 9 p.m. after the neighbor threw the skates, he said Owens went over to her apartment and knocked on the door.

"According to the one side," Woods said at a news conference, "there was a lot of aggressiveness from both, back and forth, okay, whether it be banging on the doors, banging on the walls and threats being made. And then at that moment is then when Ms. Owens was shot through the door, I can tell you that."

During a family press conference Monday at a West Ocala church, attorney Anthony Thomas of Tallahassee — who said he's working with attorney Ben Crump — called for the shooter’s arrest. Thomas said that, based on what he's been told, Owens simply knocked at the door and, when she got no answer, said, “I know you hear me.”

Owens’ mother, Pamela Dias, said the neighbor shot through a closed and locked door.

"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."

Will Stand Your Ground law apply?

The Sheriff's Office is not saying if the shooting had a racial component. But the sheriff brought several prominent members of Ocala's African American community to his news conference to urge calm.

Owens' mother said the shooter would use racial slurs when speaking to the kids.

And several speakers at the family's press conference did bring up race.

"It is a tragic reminder of the fact that it is simply not safe to be Black in America," said Marion County NAACP president Bishop David Stockton III.

Sheriff Woods is promising to bring justice but says he cannot make an arrest until a defense under Florida’s stand-your-ground law is ruled out. The controversial law allows deadly force if someone “reasonably believes” it's necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm.

"I want the family to know that I'm here to provide all of my resources to come to justice for this case. To ensure that the family sees it," he said.

Dias spoke at the family’s press conference with three of Owens’ children standing beside her. Owens youngest, a three year old boy, was not there.

Tears streamed down Dias' young granddaughter’s face.

"What I'm asking is for justice, justice for my daughter, Ajike Shantrel Owens," Dias said. "I am asking for justice for Isaac Williams, justice for Israel Owens, justice for Africa Owens, justice for Titus Owens, justice for your family, for your children, for your loved ones, justice for America."

As for when an arrest — if any — will come, the sheriff couldn't say.

Dias has created a Gofundme account to raise money for the funeral and the children’s education. A vigil is planned for 6 p.m. Thursday at Immerse Church of Ocala on U.S. 441.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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