WASHINGTON – A man inspired by an internet conspiracy theory to fire an assault weapon multiple times inside a pizza restaurant in the nation's capital now faces a federal gun charge, prosecutors announced Tuesday.
The new federal charge against Edgar Maddison Welch is interstate transportation of a firearm with intent to commit a crime. It carries a statutory maximum of 10 years in prison and potential financial penalties.
At a brief hearing Tuesday prosecutors dismissed local charges of assault with a dangerous weapon and other weapons offenses against Welch now that he's charged federally. It's not clear when Welch will appear in federal court.
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.
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," court documents said.
Police said he walked through the restaurant's front door and pointed an AR-15 assault weapon in the direction of an employee. The employee and others fled, and Welch fired, striking a door, walls a computer desktop, according to the documents filed in Superior Court to support the initial local charges.
Welch "surrendered peacefully when he found no evidence that underage children were being harbored in the restaurant," the documents 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 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.