Comet Ping Pong Gunman Said He Was Investigating Fictitious Conspiracy Theory: Police - NBC4 Washington

Comet Ping Pong Gunman Said He Was Investigating Fictitious Conspiracy Theory: Police

Edgar Welch told police he was there to investigate a fake news conspiracy theory known as "pizzagate" involving the pizzeria, Hillary Clinton and John Podesta

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    D.C. police arrested an armed man outside the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in northwest Washington. News4's Darcy Spencer reports. (Published Monday, Dec. 5, 2016)

    A gunman investigating a fake news story about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring out of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria fired shots inside the restaurant Sunday afternoon, police said. The gunman had an AR-15 rifle and a handgun, they said.

    Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, North Carolina, was arrested at Comet Ping Pong in the 5000 block of Connecticut Avenue NW, police said. No one was injured. 

    Rounds fired possibly struck the walls, door and a computer, police spokeswoman Karimah Bilal said.

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    A man fired a shot into the ground inside a northwest Washington pizzeria as customers and employeeds fled the building. Derrick Ward reports.
    (Published Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016)

    Lee Elmore, a bartender at Comet who said he didn't see a gun himself, told News4 everyone inside started to panic as the man walked to the back of the restaurant.

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    "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."

    Customers and employees ran from the restaurant.

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    Police closed part of Connecticut Avenue in northwest Washington as they investigated a gunman at Comet Ping Pong pizzeria.
    (Published Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016)

    The incident drew heavy police response. Dozens of officers with guns drawn were in the streets, and a helicopter circled above the scene.

    Police charged Welch with assault with a dangerous weapon.

    In addition to the rifle and handgun Welch carried, police said they found another gun inside the suspect's vehicle, which police towed away from in front of the pizzeria.

    After his arrest, Welch told police he was there to investigate a fake news conspiracy theory known as "pizzagate" involving the pizzeria in the 5000 block of Connecticut Avenue NW. Posts to Facebook and Reddit claim Comet was the home base of a child sex abuse ring run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her presidential campaign chair, John Podesta.

    "What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories does come with consequences," Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis said.

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    Twitter accounts drew connections between Podesta's emails, which were hacked and then published by WikiLeaks, and the pizzeria. Users of the online message board 4Chan saw Podesta had emailed Comet Ping Pong about hosting a Clinton fundraiser, then speculated Comet Ping Pong was part of a Democratic child trafficking ring, according to the New York Times.

    Politifact, a Tampa Bay Times project dedicated to uncovering the truth in Washington, found the conspiracy theory presented without documentation or named sources "fails to rise above rumor or hoax."

    Alefantis told the Times he received hundreds of death threats after the conspiracy theory surfaced.

    "We should all condemn the efforts of some to spread these malicious and utterly false accusations about our restaurant, Comet Ping Pong," he said Sunday evening.

    "What happened today demonstrates that promoting false and reckless conspiracy theories comes with consequences," Alefantis said in a statement early Monday morning. "I hope that those involved in fanning these flames will take a moment to contemplate what happened here today, and stop promoting these falsehoods right away."

    Connecticut Avenue was closed between Fessenden Street and Nebraska Avenue NW but reopened about 6 p.m. after a police sweep of the area found nothing hazardous.

    Comet Ping Pong is closed Monday but will reopen Tuesday.