WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A man who took a rifle into a Washington pizza restaurant on Sunday “to self-investigate” a fake news report that it was operating a child abuse ring has been charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, police in the U.S. capital said.
Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, North Carolina, was charged after the incident at Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Washington near the Maryland border on Sunday afternoon.
The suspect entered the restaurant and pointed a gun at a restaurant employee, who fled and notified authorities, police said. The man then discharged the weapon inside the restaurant. There were no injuries.
Two weapons were found inside the restaurant and a third one was recovered from the man’s vehicle, police added.
They said the suspect during an interview with investigators “revealed that he came to the establishment to self-investigate ‘Pizza Gate’ (a fictitious online conspiracy theory),” the police statement said.
Last month, media outlets including the Washington Post and New York Times, reported about death threats against the owner of the restaurant after Internet postings said the restaurant was operating a child abuse ring led by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and her top campaign aide.
Police said there was no active investigation of child abuse allegations there. The attack on Comet was considered an example of how fake news reports that proliferated during the election year affected people’s lives.
A Reuters witness at the restaurant with his 1-year-old child said it was crowded when the gunman entered, with many families dining.
The Reuters witness who was inside Comet at around 3 p.m. ET said he was paying his bill when he saw a man entering the restaurant’s front door. “It appeared to us he had a long rifle with him. We scattered,” he said.
(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Peter Cooney; Editing by Mary Milliken)