A popular Hurtsboro, Ala., restaurant owner is dead and three other people wounded following a shooting in the City Grill Cafe Wednesday morning.
Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor said 69-year-old Donald Wayne Hughes was killed when around 6:30 a.m. EST a man walked into the business, shouted the owner’s name, then began firing rounds from a .22 caliber long rifle.
Russell County Coroner Arthur Sumbry Jr. said Hughes died as a result of gunshot wounds and that the body will be sent to Montgomery, Ala. for a autopsy.
Taylor did not believe the others wounded were in a life-threatening situation.
Walker Frank Thomas, 64, was arrested peacefully at a residence on Goolsby Street after running from the restaurant, officials said. He has been charged with murder and three counts of attempted murder.
Taylor said law enforcement surrounded the house and the suspect surrendered following a conversation with Taylor on his cell phone.
The sheriff said his office has the weapon.
Taylor said the suspect was in custody, but he declined to release his name, saying that people with mental illness may feel emboldened by heightened media attention. Taylor said the suspect will likely be charged with capital murder.
“They see whatever attention the offender gets on TV, and it makes other people with mental disabilities appear to do the same thing,” he said. “I’m not giving him that gratification this morning. I’m not talking about him. I’m not giving his name. ... At some point, that may become public information and the media can do with that what they will.”
The restaurant was opened in 1954 by the victim’s mother and has been in the family since then. It serves meals in the town of approximately 500 people Monday-Friday from 5 a.m. - 1 p.m.
One regular customer Gary Williams was feeling sad and lucky.
“Normally, it would not be unusual for me to be eating there at that time but I didn’t today,” Williams said. “When my wife told me the news I could not believe it. That family has always been good people.”
“It is a sad day that we have to work this type of case. And I certainly am here for the family,” Taylor said.
The sheriff said the suspect and Hughes knew each other, but said he did not know the extent of their relationship.
Hughes was one of “the nicest people you’d ever want to meet,” Taylor said. “He is going to be missed.”
“I can’t tell you how many deputies have been in that restaurant from working a scene or working a case, and he’d feed every single one of them,” Taylor said. “The people in Hurtsboro have always taken care of each other. This town is a wonderful little town in rural Alabama, but it has some of the biggest-hearted people I’ve ever seen here.”