Thursday 17 August 2017

'Pizzagate' gunman: I was foolish and reckless

Edgar Welch surrenders after his restaurant rampage (Sathi Soma/AP)
Edgar Welch surrenders after his restaurant rampage (Sathi Soma/AP)

A man who walked into a US restaurant with an assault rifle, intent on investigating internet rumours dubbed "pizzagate", has apologised, saying he now realises "just how foolish and reckless" he was.

Edgar Welch's apology came in a letter submitted to a judge before his sentencing, set for June 22.

In a court document, his lawyer asked that he be sentenced to one and a half years in prison.

But in a separate document, prosecutors said he should serve four and a half years.

Welch, 28, from Salisbury, North Carolina, pleaded guilty in March to two charges in connection with the case.

As part of his guilty plea Welch has acknowledged entering the Comet Ping Pong restaurant in Washington DC on December 4 last year with an AR-15 assault rifle and a revolver.

He also admitted driving to the restaurant from North Carolina to investigate a conspiracy theory about Democrats harbouring child sex slaves there.

Terrified customers fled when they saw Welch enter the restaurant and when he encountered a locked storage closet he fired multiple times. No-one was injured.

In his one-page, handwritten letter filed with the court on Tuesday but dated June 2, Welch said he "came to DC with the intent of helping people I believed were in dire need of assistance, and to bring an end to a corruption that I truly felt was harming innocent lives".

He said he wanted to apologise and acted without considering the repercussions of his actions or possible harm.

"It was never my intention to harm or frighten innocent lives, but I realise now just how foolish and reckless my decision was," he wrote.

Comet Ping Pong owner James Alefantis has said the "pizzagate" hoax that spread on the internet threw the lives of everyone connected with the shop into chaos.

Welch's lawyer Dani Jahn said Welch had previously worked as an emergency medical technician and volunteered in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.

She said he was an involved parent to his seven-year-old stepdaughter and four-year-old daughter and noted that he surrendered peacefully after realising that no children were being harmed at the restaurant.

In their own filing, prosecutors Demian Ahn and Sonali Patel wrote that the fact that no-one was shot was "entirely the product of good luck - the fortuitous facts that nobody interfered with the defendant's progress and that nobody was behind the door which he ultimately shot through".

They said a "significant sentence" was required, not only to punish Welch but to "deter other would-be vigilantes from attempting similar crimes against innocent subjects of the next internet-inspired conspiracy theory".

Welch has pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of a firearm and assault with a dangerous weapon.

As part of the guilty plea, prosecutors will drop a third charge, possessing a firearm during a crime of violence, which had carried a mandatory minimum prison term of five years.

AP

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