WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A gunman wearing a jacket and tie wordlessly and randomly opened fire inside a Wendy's during the lunchtime rush Monday, killing a firefighter who'd gone back to fetch his child's toy and wounding five other diners. He then turned the gun on himself.
"This was not a robbery. He didn't demand anything...," said Paul Miller, a Palm Beach County sheriff's spokesman. "Looks like this was just another random shooting like we've seen around the United States."
The 42-year-old victim, a Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue lieutenant, had met his wife and child at the restaurant, Deputy Fire-Rescue Chief Steve Delai said. The family had just left, but the man returned to retrieve a toy his child had left behind and was shot in the back as he stood at the counter, Delai said.
"Our officer probably didn't even see him," Delai said, adding that the man's wife and child were still in the parking when the shooting broke out.
Three of the survivors were in critical condition, sheriff's spokeswoman Teri Barbera said. Two others had minor injuries, including one person who was injured while running away.
Motorists at the drive-thru window fled, some leaving their vehicles running. Several people were carried from the restaurant on stretchers. Authorities did not identify the shooter or the other victims.
"I just saw a lady with a little boy in her arms come running out screaming, 'Somebody's shooting!"' said Sandra Jackson, who had been getting gas across the street. The woman said her husband was still inside, said Jackson, 43, of Palm Springs.
The mayhem unfolded just after noon during the lunch hour rush at the eatery on a major suburban road lined with strip malls, car dealerships and fast food restaurants, about five miles from downtown West Palm Beach. A billboard advertising an upcoming gun show stands just behind the Wendy's.
The shooter entered the restaurant and went to a restroom before coming out brandishing what appeared to be a 9 mm handgun, Miller said. About 10 to 15 people were believed to be in the restaurant at the time, he said.
Ashley Milton, 28, said she had just opened the door to get lunch when she heard the "pop pop" of gunfire and saw people running.
"I really didn't think that's what it was. I thought this can't be happening," she said. "You see your life flash before your eyes."
Josh Maynard, 30, said he and his 20-year-old brother Jerry hit the floor when the well-dressed gunman opened fire. Jerry Maynard said the shooter held his gun sideways and said nothing.
The gunman went to the counter, Miller said, shooting a customer before slowly turning to his left and firing on others before shooting himself.
One customer kicked the pistol away from the gunman after he'd shot himself, then started first aid on the wounded, authorities said.
When the shooting stopped, the Maynard brothers ran out of the restaurant. Josh Maynard's blue jeans were torn and his brown leather boots were sliced, damage he said was caused by a bullet that grazed him.
"It felt like somebody kicked me in the foot," he said.
Bob Bertini, a Wendy's Inc. spokesman based in Dublin, Ohio, called the shooting "a senseless tragedy.
"In May of 2000 four employees were shot dead and three others were hurt at a robbery inside a Wendy's in Queens, N.Y.
Known as the Wendy's Massacre of 2000, the shootings were done by 36-year-old ex-employee John Taylor, who was sentenced to death and accomplice Craig Godineaux, who was sentenced to life in prison.