Owner warned of potential violence before 6 shot inside restaurant, police say

SALISBURY, N.C. — Six people were shot shortly after midnight Saturday after a party inside a popular Salisbury restaurant, officials said.

Police were called to the scene at about 12:05 a.m. after a party at Thelma’s Down Home Cooking at 1935 Jake Alexander Boulevard.

In total, six people were shot, one in the chest. Two were trampled, and one person was treated for anxiety, according to authorities.

Law enforcement officials said they warned the owner of a popular Salisbury restaurant before six people were shot shortly after midnight Sunday following a party.

They told the owner something might happen, but the owner did not heed the warning.

An Alcohol Law Enforcement agent said he noticed some partygoers display gang signs, and that people were trying to bring alcohol inside using water bottles, which is illegal.

“Special Agent Jerry Dean spoke with the owner of Thelma’s and tried to warn her that the potential crowd coming into the restaurant could pose a danger and maybe some violence, and she decided she was going to host the event anyway,” Omar Qureshi, special agent-in-charge of NCALE Division.

Police revealed that they were on high alert about the party at Thelma’s Down Home Cooking because a party at the restaurant in August resulted in a large dispute that officers had to break up.

They said they shared their concerns with the owner beforehand, but she moved forward with the party.

The ALE agent and an off-duty officer were in the parking lot at the time of the shooting.

“It looked like some of the doors were locked and people were having to break out windows and maybe knock down the doors to get out," Qureshi said.

Salisbury police are investigating whether the doors were locked.

The building is owned by the county and officials said they are kicking the tenants out.

“This incident is wholly unacceptable, and we are in the process of terminating the lease with Thelma’s Down Home Cooking today,” County Manager Aaron Church said.

“That was the scariest sight to be around," said Tevin Smith, who was at the party when the shooting happened.

One shooting victim was airlifted to Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, and the others were taken to Rowan Regional Medical Center.

Smith said his classmates at Livingstone College were among the six people who were hurt.

Ryan Williams, the quarterback at Livingstone College, was shot in the chest.

Police said things were so chaotic after the shooting it was difficult and dangerous for medical workers to get to him, so officers took him to the hospital in a patrol car.

Students from Catawba College were also at the party.

Police said they responded to break up an argument near the door before the shooting.

“There was a dispute between some patrons that tried to enter the building and the host. The host called officers. That was resolved. I'm confident to say that had nothing to do with the shooting,” Salisbury Police Chief Jerry Stokes said.

The shooting happened sometime after that incident.

“Next thing you know, you hear a lot of gunshots go off. Everybody just running out of the door. Everything’s thrown everywhere. A lot of glass broke," said Keese Hernandez, who was also at the party.\

Police are still investigating who was involved and why it happened.

They have not identified any suspects and are asking if anyone has cellphone video or photos that could help them with the investigation.

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“I decided to come out here just to see what was going on because Thelma’s is usually a nice quiet place, and there’s no trouble I’ve heard of," said shopper Thomas Dixon.

“Livingstone College is grateful that no lives were lost, and is praying for the full recovery of those injured and the well-being of those who experienced this unfortunate event,” the college said in a statement to Channel 9.

No further information has been released.

Contact Salisbury police at 704-638-5333 if you have any information.

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation is assisting local authorities in this case.



“Our officers’ response to the shooting at Thelma’s Restaurant was done with the utmost courage and restraint. Rather than running in and confronting the shooter or shooters with uncontrolled use of force in a crowded area that could have harmed innocent people, the officers entered and began to manage the quick escape of those attending the event, and located and assisted the victims. The officers’ actions were both heroic and compassionate, showing no regard for their own personal safety.

It was the officers’ quick transport of the most seriously wounded victim that likely saved his life. Their quick presence may have also limited the number of injuries and avoided anyone losing their life in this tragic situation. We remain concerned for the victims, their families, and the entire community. I expect detectives to identify the suspect or suspects and bring appropriate charges for those responsible.

As Chief of this department, I work to ensure we are both responsive to the public’s concerns and that we are transparent in our operations. After some concern expressed by members of our community, I have tasked our Professional Standards Unit to debrief how we responded to the situation at Thelma’s Restaurant before, during, and after to ensure we operated within our standard procedures and policies.

We will debrief whether our lines of communication are clear regarding information dissemination and if there are any areas where we can improve or alter. Our agency is Nationally Accredited under the Commission for Accreditation of Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) and has a range of standards we must meet to receive our accreditation. It is important for us to take opportunities to review our response to a situation such as this to ensure we are meeting those standards.”


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