ABINGDON, Md. (AP) — A gunman fatally shot a sheriff’s deputy inside a crowded restaurant at lunchtime Wednesday and killed another deputy in a shootout nearby, authorities and witnesses said.
The suspect was killed in the shootout not far from the shopping center where the restaurant was situated, Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler said. Remarkably, no bystanders were hurt.
Police haven’t released a motive for the shooting, but the sheriff said he believed the first deputy who approached the gunman was shot because he was wearing a uniform. The shooter, 67-year-old David Brian Evans, had warrants out for his arrest in Harford County and Orange County, Florida, where he was accused of assaulting a police officer.
The slain officers were described as a 30-year veteran and a 16-year veteran. The sheriff said he had met with both of their families but was withholding their names because more relatives needed to be notified.
“This is a tragic day for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office,” Gahler said, his eyes moist with tears.
“They were two outstanding deputies who served the citizens of this community faithfully.”
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ordered flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the officers.
The initial shooting took place inside a Panera restaurant in Abingdon, which is about 20 miles northeast of Baltimore.
Sophia Faulkner, 15, said she and her mother were getting lunch and almost sat right next to the gunman. Instead, they chose a booth about 10 feet away because the man appeared “sketchy” and disheveled. He was sitting in the back of the restaurant and hadn’t ordered any food, Faulkner said.
A sheriff’s deputy was called to the restaurant just before noon, presumably because “someone knew who he was,” Gahler said.
The deputy tried to talk to the man, who was apparently known to officers and workers at the restaurant. The deputy sat down, asked how he was doing, and the man shot him in the head.
“I saw him fall back out of his chair, and the blood started coming out,” Faulkner said. “I didn’t know how to process it. My mom said, ‘What’s going on?’ and I said, ‘Get down. Someone just got shot.'”
The shooter fled and “everyone started screaming,” Faulkner said. Children at the restaurant — out of school because of snowfall — were running around.
“I was freaking out so much, and everybody was running to one side of the store. Families were huddling together. I didn’t really know what was going on,” she said. “You see this stuff online and in movies and on TV when it happens, but you never think you’re going to go out to lunch one day with your mom and it’s just going to happen.”
Her mother, Lynn Faulkner, a registered nurse, said that she recognized the man and believed he was mentally ill and in need of social services.
“I’ve seen him there frequently, and I’ve seen him at areas of the library,” she said. “He’s definitely in need of mental health care, and he never should have had a gun.”
“He knew what he was doing, because he shot right for the head,” she continued.
“Apparently, the policeman tried to come up to him, ‘Hi, how are you doing,’ — he’s living in this store — and, ‘Can you try to move on?’ or ‘Why are you here today?’ and that’s when he immediately pulled out the gun and shot him.”
Bartender Mike Davis was working at the Ocean City Brewing Co.’s Taphouse when he saw two women and a child run from Panera to his restaurant’s back door.
“They were hysterical. They said they heard gunshots,” he said. “We locked the door and went to talk to a cop. The cop said not to let anyone in. Then, we heard more gunshots — pop, pop, pop, pop — from down in the shopping center. It was hectic.”
Witnesses gave officers a description of the gunman and told them which way he was headed, the sheriff said. Deputies caught up with him and shots were exchanged, the sheriff said.
One of the deputies was treated at the University of Maryland R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Video showed an ambulance and a sheriff’s car escorted by police on motorcycles leaving, apparently taking the body to the nearby state medical examiner’s office. Police lined each side of the street and saluted when the vehicles drove by.
The sheriff said investigators believe Evans acted alone and there is no further threat to the community.
“The restaurant was very full at lunchtime,” Gahler said. “Thankfully, no one else was injured.”
The shopping center is called the Boulevard at Box Hill. It has a mix of shops, restaurants, a grocery store and a bank.
Yellow tape blocked off the Panera and Taphouse restaurants Wednesday afternoon, but people were coming and going freely at other businesses after the shooting.
Panera spokeswoman Amanda Cardosi said the company is heartbroken.
“Our thoughts and actions now are directed towards the victims and their families. This location will remain closed as we work with law enforcement to investigate,” she said.