A federal grand jury Thursday returned an indictment against Edgar Maddison Welch, the North Carolina man who allegedly fired a rifle inside a Washington pizzeria that conspiracy theorists claimed harbored a child sex ring.
Welch, a 28-year-old Salisbury resident, was indicted on a federal count of transporting a firearm and ammunition across state lines, and District of Columbia charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm during a commission of violence.
He’s scheduled to appear U.S. District Court Friday morning. If convicted, Welch could face a maximum of 35 years in prison.
The two-page indictment offered no new details about the Dec. 4 incident inside Washington’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant. Welch allegedly drove from Salisbury to investigate a fake news story that linked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to an alleged child sex-trafficking ring inside the restaurant.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors filed papers that said Welch allegedly stormed the restaurant while brandishing an AR-15 rifle and packing a .38 caliber revolver in a holster.
“Welch appears to have been motivated in part by unfounded rumors concerning a child sex-trafficking ring that was being perpetrated by high-profile individuals at the Comet Ping Pong restaurant,” FBI Special Agent Justin Holgate stated in an affidavit.
Citing “evidence obtained from his cell phone” that had been recovered from Welch’s Toyota Prius, Holgate recounted that “it appears that Welch had been contemplating a violent confrontation at the restaurant since at least Dec. 1, 2016.”
The evidence, Holgate said, included text messages sent to Welch’s girlfriend, a woman identified only as “M.R.” in court documents. Welch wrote M.R. that he had been researching the child abuse allegations, dubbed “Pizzagate,” and that what he had learned was making him “sick,” Holgate reported.
Welch also sent messages to two other friends, according to Holgate’s affidavit. One asked what Welch had in mind.
“Standing up against a corrupt system that kidnaps, tortures and rapes children in our own backyard,” Welch replied, according to the FBI agent.
After he was arrested, Welch reportedly agreed to talk with investigators.
“Welch stated while he was in the restaurant, he searched for evidence of hidden rooms or tunnels, or child sex-trafficking of any kind,” Holgate recounted, adding that at one point Welch fired his AR-15 at a locked door that had previously frustrated him.
“When that also proved unsuccessful, he climbed furniture to look into the closed-off room” Holgate reported, adding that Welch “found that it was unoccupied.”