WASHINGTON D.C. -- The North Carolina man suspected of firing a gun inside a popular pizza shop while investigating a fake online news report claiming Hillary Clinton was connected to a child sex trafficking ring appeared in court for the first time Monday to face charges.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28 of Salisbury, North Carolina, was arrested Sunday afternoon in an affluent neighborhood of the nation’s capital, police said in a statement. No one was injured.
CBS News justice reporter Paula Reid reported that Welch entered court at approximately 4:30 p.m. escorted by two U.S. Marshals. He was restrained at his hands and feet. According to Reid, court documents filed charged Welch with assault with a dangerous weapon, carrying a pistol without a license, unlawful discharge of a firearm, and carrying a rifle or shotgun outside the home or business.
Police said he brought a rifle into the popular Comet Ping Pong pizzeria. The bizarre rumors about the pizza joint began with a leaked email referencing Clinton and pizza parties. It morphed into fake online news stories about a child sex trafficking ring operating out of the restaurant.
On Sunday, it culminated in violence when police say Welch fired a rifle inside the restaurant as he attempted to “self-investigate” the conspiracy theory known in the Twitterverse as “Pizzagate.”
No one was hurt and Welch was arrested.
According to the documents, Welch told officers that he had “read online that the Comet restaurant was harboring child sex slaves and that he wanted to see for himself if they were there. He stated that he was armed to help rescue them. He surrendered peacefully when he found no evidence that underage children were being harbored in the restaurant.”
He was armed with an AR-15 style weapon and told officers he also had a .38 caliber handgun.
The shooting alarmed those from neighboring businesses all the way to the White House about the real-life dangers of fake news on the internet. One of those people posting on the conspiracy theory is the son of President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed national security adviser.
Even Monday, Michael Flynn Jr., who has posted frequently on the Pizzagate theories, continued to push the conspiracy theory. He’s an adviser to his father, Michael Flynn, whom Mr. Trump has selected to serve as national security adviser.
Flynn Jr., who has accompanied his father to presidential transition meetings inside Trump Tower and lists the presidential transition website as part of his Twitter bio, tweeted Sunday night that, “Until #Pizzagate proven to be false, it’ll remain a story.”
On Monday, Mr. Trump’s team had no immediate response to questions about the conspiracy theory or the roll of Michael Flynn Jr. in the transition.
On Monday, White House Spokesman Josh Earnest, asked about the shooting, said, “There’s no denying the corrosive effect that some of these false reports have had on our political debate and that’s concerning in a political context. It’s deeply troubling that some of those false reports could lead to violence.”
The fake news stories alleging that Clinton and her campaign chief ran a child sex ring out of the restaurant have been denounced by the owner of the popular pizza restaurant.
“We should all condemn the efforts of certain people to spread malicious and utterly false accusations about Comet Ping Pong,” owner James Alefantis said. “Let me state unequivocally: These stories are completely and entirely false, and there is no basis in fact to any of them. What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences.”
On Sunday, bartender Lee Elmore told news outlets, people in the restaurant began to panic as an armed man walked to the back of the restaurant.
“One of the hosts runs up and says did you see that guy? He had a big gun,” Elmore said.
“His demeanor was bizarre, in that if you come in to a place to eat, you ask for a host or grab a seat at the bar,” Elmore said. “Didn’t make any eye contact, didn’t talk with anybody.”
Upon arriving at the restaurant police say Welch walked in the front door and pointed a gun toward an employee, who fled and contacted police, according to authorities.
Welch fired the rifle inside the restaurant, and rounds possibly hit the walls, door and a computer, all of which were damaged, police spokeswoman Karimah Bilal said.
Authorities set up a perimeter and arrested Welch safely, Interim D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said. Welch was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. Police recovered an AR-15 rifle, a Colt .38 handgun, a shotgun and a folding knife. A telephone number listed for Welch in North Carolina was disconnected.
On Monday, court records showed that Welch “surrendered peacefully when he found no evidence that underage children were being harbored in the restaurant.”
Comet Ping Pong is in a neighborhood of well-tended private homes and apartment buildings on leafy streets that lead to a mix of shops, restaurants.