A man who said he wanted to shoot gay people and asked the way to the nearest gay bar later opened fire there, killing one person and wounding six others, police said.
The suspect walked into the Backstreet Cafe late Friday, ordered a beer and after a few minutes pulled a handgun from his coat and began firing, said police spokeswoman Shelly Alley.
Seven of the 25 people in the bar were wounded, one critically. Danny Lee Overstreet, 43, died at the scene in what police were investigating as a hate crime.
“It sounded like firecrackers at first,” said a woman who said she was sitting in a booth when the shooting began. She asked not to be identified for fear she might lose her job.
“I looked up and saw people falling to the ground,” she said. “You could feel the wind off the bullets, they were so close.”
Held Without Bail
Ronald Edward Gay, 53, was charged with murder in connection with the shootings and was being held without bail today. Additional charges were expected, Alley said.
Police said Gay had been in a different bar Friday and had asked patrons there where the city’s nearest gay bar was, telling witnesses he wanted to shoot some gay people.
One person gave the man directions and then called police, who arrived at the Backstreet Cafe shortly after the shooting.
Officers found Gay walking down a street about two blocks from the Backstreet Cafe and arrested him, Alley said. She said police found a 9 mm pistol in a trash can near the bar.
The shooting came one week after members of Roanoke’s gay and lesbian community held a gay pride festival.
Members of the Washington-based National Gay and Lesbian Task Force came to Roanoke for a candlelight vigil Saturday night. Outside the Backstreet Cafe, flowers, cards and balloons were left by members of the community.
Larry Payne, co-owner of a gay and lesbian book and gift shop a few blocks from the bar, said there had not been any growing tension or acts of violence against gays in Roanoke. “I think this guy had a problem with his name. He probably got picked on and picked on as a kid,” he said.
Alley said Gay had confirmed the witness reports and admitted during questioning that he wanted to shoot gay people but gave no motive.
He was carrying identification listing a home address in Citrus Springs, Fla., but Alley said he had been living at various Roanoke addresses for about a year, including a campground and a motel a few blocks from the bar.
Gay is named in a Citrus County warrant accusing him of trespassing in July and an injunction against domestic violence, both misdemeanors. He did not have a record in Roanoke, Alley said.
Overstreet’s sister, Darlene Overstreet, said her brother often visited the Backstreet Cafe.
“He just stopped by to have a beer, that’s all,” she said.
Five other victims of the shooting remained hospitalized Saturday.