Witness: Charleston gunman declared ‘There’s a new boss’

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — First he noticed waitresses and kitchen staff leaving hurriedly through the front door. Then a man dressed like a restaurant employee, in an apron and backward ball cap, strolled into the dining room and made an announcement.

“He said, ‘There’s a new boss in town,'” recalled Peter Siegert IV, whose family from Galesville, Maryland, was about to dig into their fried chicken lunch at Virginia’s in downtown Charleston. “I don’t think anybody realized he had a gun until after he locked the door.”

The gunman kept his revolver by his side, never pointing it at patrons in the crowded restaurant as he ordered them to get on the floor and crawl toward the back. Then he ordered them to “get out,” Siegert said.

They fled through the open rear doors.

Siegert said he never heard a gunshot. But authorities and one of Virginia’s owners said a fired dishwasher fatally shot the restaurant’s executive chef. Deputy Charleston County Coroner Sheila Williams identified the victim late Thursday as 37-year-old Anthony Shane Whiddon.

A neighbor of Whiddon wept and said he was “just a gem.”

Related: Disgruntled employee shot; hostage rescued from downtown Charleston restaurant

“That man would leave early in the morning and not come home until late at night,” said Terri Thomas Wall. “He loved to fish. He was always outside when he wasn’t working. Outside with his kids or working in the yard.”

Wall said he lived with his wife and two young sons in a home that had previously belonged to his mother in nearby Goose Creek.

She said Whiddon found time to help others, despite his busy schedule. He and his wife rushed clothing and personal items recently to a nearby family whose home caught fire. And he was always quick to offer Wall help her when her lawnmower wouldn’t start or she had trouble with a stubborn water spigot.

A Georgia native, Whiddon was hired a year ago as top chef at Virginia’s, located in a tourist-heavy stretch of retail shops and upscale restaurants along King Street. He had been cooking for more than 17 years at restaurants in the South, including at the Sea Island Company’s posh resort on the Georgia coast, according to Holy City Hospitality, the company that owns Virginia’s.

Whiddon’s bio on the company website said his cooking was influenced by his love for hunting, fishing and gardening.

“We are deeply saddened and heartbroken by what transpired yesterday at our restaurant Virginia’s on King,” Marty Wall, managing director of Holy City Hospitality, said in a statement the company posted online. “We are devastated by the passing of Shane Whiddon, our beloved and well-respected chef and friend.”

Holy City Hospitality did not immediately return phone calls from The Associated Press.

After shooting Whiddon, authorities said, the gunman held a person hostage for about three hours before police shot the suspect, critically wounding him.

Mayor John Tecklenberg said the hostage was freed uninjured after the standoff.

Tecklenburg quickly said the shooting was “the act of a disgruntled employee” and not a terrorist attack or a hate crime.

The site is a few blocks away from Emanuel AME church, where nine black members of a church were gunned down by a white man during a June 2015 Bible study. Dylann Roof was sentenced to death in the case. It’s also just several blocks from where more than 100 cruise ships dock in Charleston each year.

“This was a tragic case of a disturbed individual, I think, with a history of some mental health challenges,” Tecklenburg said at a news conference.

One of the restaurant’s owners, John Aquino, told WCSC-TV that a dishwasher who had been fired came back to the restaurant and shot a chef to get revenge.

The restaurant was packed with a lunchtime crowd and the first officers to arrive were able to get the man who was shot and a number of diners out, interim Charleston Police Chief Jerome Taylor said.

King Street remained closed for a block on either side of the restaurant Thursday evening as police remained at the shooting scene.

Steven Knotts, who tends bar at another restaurant owned by Holy City Hospitality, said he spent much of Thursday with other service industry workers. They shared a sense of collective grief and solemn solidarity.

“It doesn’t make me scared,” Knotts said of the shooting. “That could happen anywhere, anytime. You want to be more careful. But what are you going to do?”

___

Associated Press writers Seanna Adcox, Jeffrey Collins and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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