Man opens fire at DC pizzeria over fake news story
Prosecutors on Tuesday filed new federal charges and revealed fresh details about alleged “Pizzagate” gunman Edgar Maddison Welch, the 28-year-old Salisbury, North Carolina, resident now at the center of a media storm.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia charged Welch with interstate transportation of a firearm with intent to commit an offense or with knowledge or reasonable cause to believe that an offense would be committed. The federal charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and potential financial penalties.
The federal charge also replaced local D.C. firearms charges, which were dropped.
Following a brief hearing Tuesday afternoon, Welch remained held without bail pending a combined preliminary and detention hearing on Friday. He appeared in an orange jail jumpsuit, close-shaven with close-cropped hair. He told U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey he was unemployed, with only $100 in the bank, and was represented by a public defender.
In a 12-page filing made public before Welch’s appearance in U.S. District Court on Tuesday afternoon, investigators divulged more of the back story behind the Dec. 4 episode in which an armed Welch allegedly stormed a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor 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.
Welch’s phone also included a video apparently taken while he was driving from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., on the morning of Dec. 4, Holgate wrote.
“Welch ... looked into the camera and told his family he loved them,” Holgate recounted.
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.”