CLAYTON — The man charged in a deadly shooting at an Applebee’s restaurant in northwest St. Louis County was acting “strange” in a way that caused alarm and brushed up against a server before saying something akin to “things are about to get real” and opening fire, St. John’s police chief said Wednesday.
The gunman, identified by authorities as 28-year-old Courtney Demond Washington, shot two women in one booth at the Applebee’s in St. John and then walked to the other side of the restaurant where he shot a 20-year-old off-duty Kinloch firefighter, police Chief Robert Connell said at a news conference.
Washington then calmly left the restaurant Monday night and got into a vehicle that was not his own, drove to his own car and then traveled to St. Ann, where he lived, Connell said. While being taken into custody in St. Ann early Tuesday morning, Washington denied any involvement in the shooting.
It’s not clear what prompted Washington to fire on the women and he had no apparent connection to them, authorities said.
Witnesses had reported hearing five shots, Connell said, but only three 9 mm shell casings were found at the scene. Investigators are still reviewing surveillance video from inside the restaurant.
He was eating near Kimberly Ratliff-Penton, 46, and Lakesha Finch when he left to retrieve a handgun from outside, Connell said. When he came back he shot Ratliff-Penton, killing her, and wounded Finch, whom authorities said is in her mid-30s. He then walked over to a booth where Arlydia Bufford, wearing a Kinloch Fire Department polo-style shirt and training pants, was eating with colleagues.
Connell said it appeared Bufford raised her arms in an effort to protect herself because a bullet traveled through both her forearms before striking her in the head. She was in critical condition at a hospital Wednesday. Finch’s condition was not clear.
Ratliff-Penton helped run a North County day care and was a former online producer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell said at Wednesday’s news conference that more charges could be filed. He said he has frequently eaten at the Applebee’s in St. John over the years.
“That scene was nothing less than horrifying,” he said.
Connell said the call initially came in as an active shooter and two St. John officers responded to the scene within 30 seconds. More than a dozen area officers arrived within a minute and a half, he said, securing the scene and giving prompt medical attention to the wounded. He praised the police response and collaboration with other municipal police departments while noting community tensions with police across the country.
“This is a day that, as a nation, we know that law enforcement is looked down upon,” Connell said, “but I want to tell you that our men and women in law enforcement and especially here in St. Louis County has not given up and we’re still out there serving the communities as we should be because that’s the oath we’ve taken to do.”
Connell continued, “Despite everything that’s going on, we won’t quit. We will not leave behind the citizens of St. Louis County, and we’re going to keep doing our jobs.”
Kinloch fire Chief Kevin Stewart said at the news conference that Bufford is a fighter. He had earlier described her as “a very bright young lady, and brings a passion to public service and firefighting.”
“What can we do to do things better?” he asked Wednesday. “Violence is not the answer. Put your guns down, love your neighbor.”
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