WASHINGTON – A man who walked into a Washington pizzeria with an assault rifle to investigate internet rumors dubbed "pizzagate" recorded a message on his drive from North Carolina telling his daughters the world is corrupt and he's standing up for children like them.
The recording from Edgar Maddison Welch's cellphone was obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press ahead of his sentencing set for June 22.
In the 2 ½ minute recording, Welch speaks to a dashboard-mounted camera as he drives with one hand on the steering wheel along a tree-lined highway, telling his "girls" that he loves them "more than anything in this world."
"I can't let you grow up in a world that's so corrupt by evil without at least standing up for you, for other children just like you," he said. He tells them he wants to protect people who can't protect themselves.
Welch, who is from Salisbury, North Carolina, pleaded guilty in March to interstate transportation of a firearm and assault with a dangerous weapon. 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.
As part of his guilty plea Welch has acknowledged entering the Comet Ping Pong restaurant Dec. 4 with an AR-15 assault rifle and a revolver. He also acknowledged driving to the restaurant from North Carolina to investigate a conspiracy theory about Democrats harboring child sex slaves there. Patrons fled when they saw Welch enter the restaurant, and when he encountered a locked storage closet he fired multiple times. No one was injured.
Prosecutors, who are calling for Welch to spend 4 ½ years in prison, said in court documents that the video shows Welch "was lucid, deadly serious, and very aware that his planned confrontation would likely leave him dead or in jail."
Welch's attorney Dani Jahn, argued that he should be sentenced to 1 ½ years in prison. She wrote that Welch, who previously worked as an emergency medical technician and volunteered in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, is an involved parent to his 7-year-old stepdaughter and 4-year-old daughter.
In his 1-page, handwritten letter filed with the court Tuesday but dated June 2, Welch wrote that he "came to D.C. 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 wrote that he wanted to apologize and that he acted without considering the repercussions of his actions or the possible harm.
"It was never my intention to harm or frighten innocent lives, but I realize now just how foolish and reckless my decision was," he wrote.