Charleston police say one person has been killed and another has been rushed to the hospital, as hostages remain trapped inside Virginia’s on King restaurant with an “active shooter.”
King Street is currently closed between Calhoun and Morris Streets. Hostage negotiators are the scene along with medics and SWAT.
Employees working in the area near Virginia’s On King, a Southern cuisine restaurant, said they were on lockdown as authorities swarmed the area. Several people have said the active shooter situation appears to have started within Virginia’s.
“This was not an act of terrorism,” said Mayor John Tecklenburg. “This was not a hate crime. This was a disgruntled employee.”
Peter Siegert, 73, and his son Peter Siegert IV, 45, both of Maryland, were eating at Virginia’s when two waitresses and three kitchen staff members marched through the restaurant and out the front door without saying anything.
An older black man wearing an apron and dressed like a kitchen staff member walked through the front door holding a small caliber revolver. He locked the door and said “I am the new king of Charleston.”
He told everyone in the restaurant to get down and move to the back of the building. There were about 30 people dining at the time.
They herded to the back where there were two side exit doors. They began filtering out, some crawling on all fours.
“We did not want to give him a good target,” the younger Siegert said. He apparently was the last person out in the group but did not know if others were still inside.
Outside they saw police and asked how soon they might be able to get back inside the restaurant to collect their belongings.
“Not now, we’re not finished with this yet,” the officers said back.
The Charleston Police Department’s bomb squad has arrived at the scene.
Tom and Patsy Plant were eating lunch at Virginia’s with their daughter Laura among 15 to 20 people.
They said a man came from the kitchen with a loaded revolver in his left hand and announced “There’s a new boss in town.”
One customer ran out back door. The Plants followed the customer, leaving their stuff in the restaurant.
They described gunman as black man in his late 50s. Patsy said he looked like “an ordinary grandpa, but he had a crazy look. It was very crazy.”
Dispatch said they got the initial call as “a hostage situation involving a weapon.”
“They (police) said there was an active shooter at they think Virginia’s,” said Doug Warner, a spokesman for Charleston Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
Warner said that police came to the office and put the office on lock-down.
“They’ve called employees and said, ‘Don’t come back if you’re out of the office,'” he said.
Warner added that he didn’t hear shots fired and didn’t know if other employees did.
“I saw guns drawn at the entrance to Virginia’s,” said Sarah Cobb, owner the nearby store MOSA Boutique.
She said she did not hear any gunfire but that there is a heavy police presence and SWAT officers in the area. When she stuck her head out of the store, police told her to stay inside.
“They had SWAT with big rifles going down the street in front of me… The cops in front of me said they wanted to talk to a witness.”
Craig Nelson, a bartender at nearby Proof, which was supposed to host a liquor launch this afternoon said that there are “just an insane amount of police in vests. They have us all locked in.”
He added that “Virginia’s is surrounded.”
An employee at nearby Beckett Boutique said workers there are barricaded in the back of the store. “We’re trying to stay away from the windows,” she said.
Nearby Charleston School of Law is currently on lockdown.
The College of Charleston campus is not under lockdown, according to spokesman Mike Robertson, thought the campus community was alerted of the situation.
Additional police officers are stationed outside Warren Place residence hall around the corner from Virginia’s on King to prevent students from coming near the area.