CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — It’s been eight months since a hostage situation at a popular downtown restaurant put the Holy City on edge and shattered a family.
Shane Whiddon, the head chef at Virginia’s on King who many said was a rising star on Charleston’s restaurant scene, was shot and killed.
The suspect, Thomas Burns, was a former employee with a long history of violence and mental health issues, according to police.
“We have an ex-employee with a gun in our restaurant,” Thomas Schiller, the restaurant’s general manager, told a 911 dispatch operator.
The shooting on August 24, 2017, unfolded in a matter of minutes.
“He’s holding my chef hostage,” Schiller relayed.
That was 12:17 p.m., less than 20 minutes after Burns was fired amid allegations of sexual harassment.
A decision was made to let Burns go after a male coworker filed a complaint and told management the harassment had turned physical.
At 12:00 p.m. Amanda Grant, the human resources director for Virginia’s parent company, called Burns and fired him. Burns hung up, and Grant immediately texted Whiddon and Schiller. The timestamp on the texts—12:07.
SLED documents show that at 12:12 p.m., just five minutes before he was shot and killed, Whiddon texted Grant back to tell her Burns had already called with a “threatening tone.”
Eight minutes later, at 12:20, Grant texted Burns to let him know his last paycheck would be mailed to him and warned him not to go to the restaurant.
It was too late.
Several employees were working in the kitchen when Burns busted through the side door with a revolver.
“There were a lot of people in the kitchen trying to talk him out of it,” Schiller can be heard on 911 tapes relaying information to dispatchers from an upstairs office where he was hiding.
An employee told police Burns tried to fire the gun three times.
Whiddon pushed Burns away from others working in the kitchen and grabbed a knife to fight him off.
The two fought, and Burns pointed the gun at Whiddon and told him to “get on the floor.”
Whiddon jumped back and told Burns “I’m not going to die today. I have kids.”
Burns fired again, hitting Whiddon. Employees fled into the dining room where patrons were eating.
A person from Boston had just been seated with his family visiting from England. A large group was seated at a table near the kitchen. They were having a business lunch and had just finished their coffee. Another group, mostly from London, was on vacation in Hilton Head and made the day trip to Charleston.
Many of the patrons told police Burns followed the employee into the dining room, but they thought it was a joke at first. Then, they saw the revolver in Burns’s hand.
Burns told “there’s a new boss in town” and ordered them to get down. The crowd dropped to the floor, some hiding under the tables. Burns instructed them to crawl to the back, and they escaped out of the back entrance.
Burns then turned his attention to the upstairs office where Schiller had locked himself inside and remained on the phone with police.
“Open the door,” you can hear Burns say as he tries to kick it down.
Meanwhile, a SWAT team entered the building and remained on the first floor. A hostage negotiator tried to talk with Burns. He demanded to speak to his sister and people from his church.
He told negotiators he wasn’t going back to prison and was ready to die. He wanted to be referred to as Jesse James or Josie Whales.
Burns said “he planned the incident and didn’t get the person he came for.” He threw beer bottles and glass dishes down the stairwell at the entry team.
SWAT teams tried to use a pole camera and offered to deliver him a cell phone on a robot. Burns became extremely angry.\
Meanwhile, two snipers settled into position on the scaffolding of the newly built Hotel Bennett. One on the fifth floor, the other below.
Communications with Burns deteriorated. He became “irrational.” He was armed, dangerous, and was feet away from Schiller.
SWAT commanders determined the threat had to be eliminated in order to save the hostage.
At 2:32 p.m., Officer Matthew Lawcock with the City of Charleston Police Department fired a single shot through the second story window of the restaurant.
Burns survived the shooting and was taken to MUSC where he was later served with an arrest warrant for murder. He was transferred and treated at a facility in Columbia. He died in December.