DC police arrested a man who allegedly walked through the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Chevy Chase with a gun on Sunday afternoon. The man, who police identified Sunday night as Edgar Maddison Welch of Salisbury, North Carolina, entered the pizza restaurant a little before 3 PM and proceeded to walk toward the back room where some patrons were playing table tennis. Other businesses in the neighborhood, including Politics & Prose, were locked down as police swarmed the block.
A witness described the alleged gunman as a tall blond male. Police said Welch pointed his weapon toward a restaurant employee, who was able to flee. Welch then allegedly fired at least one shot into the ground. No injuries were reported. The restaurant’s staff moved quickly to call the police and evacuate the restaurant. In a tweet, police described the weapon as an “assault rifle.”
Welch told police Sunday evening that he went to Comet Ping Pong in order to investigate “Pizzagate,” a fictional conspiracy theory that popped up during the election season and made the restaurant the unlikely center of far-right outrage predicated on hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairmanJohn Podesta. The restaurant, which also hosts music shows, announced last Thursday it would add security to its music shows following intense, mostly remotely conducted harassment of the venue and its employees.
“There have been no hostile situations at the venue, and we do not anticipate any altercations as much of the harassment has occurred online, but as a precaution we now have security and police present at every show,” Comet wrote on its Facebook page. Last week the DC police said they were “monitoring the situation and aware of general threats being made against this establishment” and had “directed the staff to notify MPD should they receive specific threats or have concerns about their safety.”
The venue did not have any music events scheduled for Sunday.
“A lot of us saw he had a gun and we all started getting our families out,” saysSharif Silmi, a Maryland lawyer who was at the restaurant with his wife and three children. “The staff came and got us.”
Matt Carr owns Little Red Fox, a cafe and coffeeshop next door to Comet. Carr was making sandwiches when a couple of Comet Ping Pong waiters rushed in his cafe and market and told him to lock the doors. They’d seen the man with a gun blow past the host stand and head to the back of the restaurant. He didn’t say a word to anyone from what they could tell.
With two to three minutes, Carr saw at least seven to nine police cars swarm the restaurant. Twenty to 30 people huddled in the center of his store away from the glass windows.
“There was a dad with his three-year-old daughter. I was just trying to monitor the situation, and I saw police officers hiding behind their cars waiting to see what was going to happen,” Carr says.
Carr estimates they were on lockdown for about an hour. He got a text from Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis saying everyone was okay next door.