DC police seized three firearms from a North Carolina man who fired a shot inside Comet Ping Pong yesterday. No one was injured, but 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch is being charged with seven offenses, including assault with a dangerous weapon, carrying a pistol without a license, unlawful discharge of a firearm, and destruction of property.
Police were called about 3 PM Sunday about a man with a gun at Comet Ping Pong. The suspect entered the Chevy Chase restaurant and pointed a firearm at one of the employees, who was able to flee and notify police. The alleged gunman then fired a rifle.
Police arrived on the scene within minutes and created a barricade that blocked off a portion of Connecticut Ave., Northwest. Several neighboring businesses, including the Politics & Prose bookstore and Little Red Fox bakery, were temporarily locked down with nobody able to enter or exit. The suspect exited Comet Ping Pong with his hands up after 4:15 PM, and was handcuffed and arrested, according to a police report.
Police seized a folding knife and three guns from the scene, including a Colt .38 handgun, a Colt AR-15 rifle, and a shotgun. Two of the guns were found on the alleged gunman and one was recovered in a vehicle, according to police. The restaurant suffered at least $1,000 worth of damage to a door, door lock, computer tower, and barrier wall.
Welch told police that he came to the Chevy Chase to self-investigate “Pizzagate,” a fictitious online conspiracy theory that accuses Comet Ping Pong of being the hub of a child-trafficking ring run by Democratic Party leaders and donors. The conspiracy is largely a product of far-right outrage and rumor-mongering prompted by emails hacked from the personal account of John Podesta, who was the chairman of Hillary Clinton‘s unsuccessful presidential campaign. Comet Ping Pong and its employees became the targets of online and phone harassment as the conspiracy festered. Other businesses on the block have also been named by the conspiracy theorists.
Promotion of the baseless theory has come from some of President-elect Donald Trump’s most visceral supporters, including the son of retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who is slated to be Trump’s national security adviser.
Yesterday’s incident appears to have brought that harassment into the real world.
Welch, who lives in Salisbury, North Carolina, is also accused in his home town of hitting a 13-year-old pedestrian with his car in October. The Charlotte Observer also reports that a man by that name has arrest records dating back to 2007, including charges of marijuana possession and driving after consuming alcohol.
In the wake of yesterday’s incident, Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis said the restaurant would be closed Monday to give the staff a day off. He also addressed the conspiracy peddlers head-on.
“Let me state unequivocally: these stories are entirely false,” he said in a statement delivered to reporters. “What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories do come with consequences, and I hope those who are involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today and to stop right away.”
Comet Ping Pong will likely reopen Tuesday.
Here’s the police report:
UPDATE, 5:57 PM: Welch was charged with seven criminal counts, including assault with a dangerous weapon and several gun-related offenses, late Monday afternoon in DC Superior Court.
During the hearing, prosecutors gave more details of Sunday’s shooting at Comet Ping Pong. The police were called when an employee getting some dough from the freezer in the back of the restaurant heard three loud bangs, according to the criminal complaint against Welch. Upon exiting the freezer, the employee found Welch allegedly holding an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and then turning it toward the employee. The employee then ran out of the restaurant toward Connecticut Avenue.
Welch finally exited Comet Ping Pong about 3:24 PM and began surrendering to the large police presence that had swarmed the restaurant. The complaint goes on to read that after being handcuffed and telling officers where he left his guns, Welch told police he drove to Comet Ping Pong because “he had read online that the Comet restaurant was harboring child sex slaves and he wanted to see for himself if they were there.” Welch surrendered when he found no evidence to back up the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, which has been repeatedly and thoroughly debunked, the complaint reads.
A judge ordered Welch held without bond. He is due back in court on Thursday.