BUFFALO, N.Y. – Eight people leaving a party at a downtown Buffalo restaurant were shot early Saturday, four of them fatally, including a Texas man who had returned to his hometown to celebrate his first wedding anniversary, police said.
Managers had decided to close the City Grill in the city's business district after an altercation inside. The victims were leaving at about 2:30 a.m. when a man who had been inside began shooting, police said.
"There were verbal things going on. Management apparently chose to close down and have everybody leave the restaurant," Chief of Detectives Dennis Richards said. "People were leaving when this shooting happened."
Keith Johnson, 25, of Buffalo was charged Saturday afternoon with four counts of second-degree murder, but a prosecutor later told the Buffalo News that he intended to go to court Sunday morning to seek dismissal of the charges.
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III told the newspaper he was making the move after reviewing video and photos from the scene and interviewing additional witnesses, noting that the evidence showed "certain discrepancies of people and clothing."
"We are having serious second thoughts," Sedita told the newspaper. "I have serious reservations about whether we have the right guy here."
Sedita declined comment when contacted at his home by The Associated Press early Sunday, other than to say he planned to be in court.
Police spokesman Michael DeGeorge did not immediately return cell phone and e-mail messages seeking comment early Sunday about the newspaper's report.
Johnson was in custody late Saturday afternoon and unavailable for comment. Police didn't know whether he was involved in the earlier altercation and asked witnesses to speak up.
"We need people to come forward," said Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda, who estimated there were 100 people at the scene when police arrived.
The group was attending a party in advance of a more formal anniversary celebration scheduled for later Saturday, authorities said. The couple, Danyell Mackin, 30, and his wife, Tanisha, married in Texas a year ago and had returned to celebrate with Buffalo-area friends and family, authorities said. Tanisha Mackin was not hurt.
"An occasion that should have been a joyous one, a happy one, turned tragic," Mayor Byron Brown said Saturday near the restaurant, a popular stop for office workers during the week and people attending theater and sporting events at night.
The Mackins, who grew up in the same neighborhood, had been friends since they were 13 and started dating in 2001, according to a website created to commemorate their marriage and provide details about the celebration.
The couple, known as "Dee" and "Tee," have a 6-year-old son, Danyell Jr., and a 7-month-old daughter, Destinee, who was scheduled to be christened on Sunday, the website said. The family had moved from Buffalo to Austin, Texas, in 2006, and the Mackins worked for a local bank.
The reception was to be held at a community center in Buffalo, and the couple said online that it was "dedicated to the people who meant so much to us and that we lost."
Police identified the other three victims as Willie McCaa III, 26; Shawnita McNeil, 27; and Tiffany Wilhite, 32.
"A senseless, random killing," said Wilhite's father, Raymond Wilhite, who returned to the restaurant a few hours after the shooting. "This kind of thing just has to stop."
McNeil was Wilhite's cousin.
"There's no words to explain how I feel," McNeil's mother, Ruby Martin, said. "She got along with everybody. She knows a lot of people. She didn't deserve to be killed. I'm pretty sure it wasn't intended for her."
Demario Vass, 30, remained in critical condition Saturday night, DeGeorge said. Two men, James Robb Jr., 27, and Shamar Davis, 30, were in stable condition. And 27-year-old Tillman Ward, who was shot in the elbow, was in good condition.
Tommy Dates, 35, of Buffalo, said he was at the bar area of the restaurant with his friends when he noticed a party had broken up. He said people started leaving the restaurant but rushed back inside a few minutes later.
"A lot of people were real upset, just trying to get out of the way," Dates said at the scene about two hours after the shootings. "Everyone was in a panic."
Johnson lives in a two-family house about six miles from the restaurant, near the University of Buffalo's south campus. No one responded to a knock on his door Saturday night, and a woman who answered the door of the other family's home said he lives with his mother and that she also left with police when Johnson was taken into custody.
The restaurant posted a statement on its website Saturday expressing condolences to the victims and their families.
"We at City Grill are deeply saddened by the tragic events," the statement said.
Three covered bodies lay in front of the restaurant for several hours, one of them on the sidewalk across the street. About 20 people stood behind yellow crime scene tape, some trying to console grief-stricken relatives and friends.
"It was horrible seeing members of our community lying in the street," the mayor said.
The window of an office next to the Main Street restaurant was shattered, as was glass at a light-rail stop across the street.
"Nobody knows why," Martin said. "Somebody else was just shooting in a crowd."
Associated Press Writer Ben Dobbin contributed to this report.