WASHINGTON (AP) — A man inspired by an internet conspiracy theory to fire an assault weapon inside a pizza restaurant warned friends that his "raid" could involve killing people, according to court documents made public Tuesday.
Edgar Maddison Welch, 28, of Salisbury, North Carolina, has been in jail since the Dec. 4 shooting at Comet Ping Pong, which has been targeted by purveyors and consumers of fake news who spread false rumors that it's the site of a child sex trafficking ring run by prominent Democrats.
Prosecutors announced Tuesday that Welch now faces a federal charge of interstate transportation of a firearm with intent to commit a crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and potential financial penalties.
Local charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and other weapons offenses were dismissed Tuesday, though they could be added to the federal case. Welch appeared in local and federal court Tuesday answering just a few brief questions, including his name and his ability to pay a lawyer. He was appointed a federal public defender, and a hearing in federal court was scheduled for Friday.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia declined to comment on the potential for additional charges, saying the case remains under investigation.
Welch told police "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," and that "he was armed to help rescue them," according to previously released court documents.
A federal court document made public Tuesday says evidence obtained from Welch's cellphone shows he "had been contemplating a violent confrontation at the restaurant since at least" Dec. 1.
The document details a series of text messages Welch exchanged with two unnamed friends. He asked one friend if he had any Army buddies who might be "down for the cause?" which he described as "Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing (sic) the lives of a few for the lives of many," and standing up against "a corrupt system that kidnaps, tortures and rapes babies and children in our own backyard."
Court documents suggest that the three friends met, and one planned to accompany Welch; after Welch's arrest became public, the person texted that Welch "ditched" him, a court document said. A court document also says Welch recorded a video on his phone on the day of the shooting, telling his family members that he loved them and expressing hopes that he would be able to tell them that again.
"And if not," he said, "don't ever forget it."
Welch walked into the Comet Ping Pong restaurant carrying a .38 revolver in a holster on his hip and the AR-15 assault weapon across his chest "in a manner that instilled fear in everyone who saw him," the document said. Customers and employees fled, and when one worker unwittingly walked in through a rear door, Welch pointed his weapon at that employee, who also fled, the document says.
The federal document says Welch said he fired at a locked door as he "searched for evidence of hidden rooms or tunnels, or child sex-trafficking of any kind." An earlier document, supporting the now-dismissed local charges, said Welch fired repeatedly, striking the walls, one door and a "computer desktop."
Welch "surrendered peacefully when he found no evidence that underage children were being harbored in the restaurant," court documents have said. No one was hurt.
His parents, Terri Welch and Harry Welch Jr., were in court on Tuesday, but declined to speak to an Associated Press reporter.
They did speak with The Washington Post (http://wapo.st/2hxFSql) at their son's public defender's office on Monday, saying he shifted from energetic and outgoing to melancholy and quiet after he hit a 13-year-old pedestrian with his car in October. He began having nightmares, but did not to seek help, they said.
No charges were filed in the crash, but Harry Welch said his son felt guilty and worried about the long-term impact on the child, who had to be airlifted to a hospital with broken bones and a head injury.
"He was very traumatized. We feel that accident changed him," Harry Welch said, and his wife said they have wondered whether it could have been a catalyst for the gun violence. The couple had not spoken with their son since the shooting.
Edgar Welch's parents described him as loving and responsible, an affectionate father to two young girls, and so religious that he has two Bible verses, Isaiah 40:30-31, tattooed across his back. After Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake, he spent weeks there building houses with a church.
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