Chuck E Cheese shootings latest in series of restaurant attacks Nation's Restaurant News, Jan 3, 1994 by Ron Ruggless AURORA, Colo.
A gunman on a shooting spree at the Chuck E Cheese restaurant in this Denver suburb shot and killed four employees and wounded a fifth just as the restaurant was closing Dec. 14. A kitchen worker, fired a week before, was charged with the murders.
"There was nothing that could have prevented this from a security standpoint," said Woody Berry, director for operations and a senior vice president at Showbiz Pizza Time in Irving, Texas, owner of the Chuck E Cheese unit. "This was the act of a lone, obviously deranged man," Berry said. "It's sad to think that it could happen anywhere, but it could."
Nathan Dunlap, 19, the fired kitchen worker, was being held on four counts of first-degree murder, Aurora police reported. Authorities also recovered a small-caliber semi-automatic handgun believed used in the shootings. Dunlap's 16-year-old girl friend, whose name was not being released, was jailed and charged with aiding and abetting the crime by helping hide the suspect and the weapon.
The gunman entered the restaurant at about 10 p.m., just after closing, on a Tuesday night, and be confronted and shot two workers, shot a third in a hallway, wounded another in the kitchen and then killed the manager in her office at the back of the restaurant. Killed in the shooting rampage were: Margaret Kohlerb, 50, the night manager; Colleen O'Conner, 17; Sylvia Crowell, 20; and Benjamin Grant, 17. The other victim, Bobby Stevens, 20, was hospitalized with gunshot wounds to the jaw. Stevens had escaped after being wounded and ran to nearby apartments to call police.
"We in the restaturant industry work real hard to provide safe and secure buildings, and we are no exception, but in this case there was no way to predict, anticipate or guarantee against such behavior," said Berry of Showbiz, which operates 209 of the 319 Chuck E Cheese restaurants nationwide. "It's just an exceptional, horrible act."
David Meaux, chief executive and president of the 38-unit Joyce's Submarine Sandwhich shops, which has 18 stores in the Denver area, said the shooting "has made us irate -- the sheer horror of it. "It hasn't really impacted our business," he said. "We have a store within a mile and a half of that Chuck E Cheese. But because we're fast food and 85 percent of it is takeout, we really haven't been impacted. Meaux said he did think a lot of customers in the Denver areas were scared to take their kids to a sit-down restaurant. "We're much more watch-ful and much more cautious now," Meaux said. "We are watching people as they come in and getting ready to duck. It's really sad."
At Bennigan's a few miles from the shooting spree site, employee Russ Hardy said the shooting had shaken the staff. "It's made us all nervous, but it was on incident that people didn't have much control over," he said. Showbiz has three restaurants in the Denver area -- the 250-seat unit in Aurora and others in Inglewood and Arvada. "Our concern right now is first and foremost for the families of the victims," Berry said. "Our entire effort with our regional manager, Brad West, and our district manager, Fred Hopkins, was one of a mission to support and help the families of the victims first and then our employees at that restaurant and surrounding restaurants."
Employees of the Aurora restaurant were placed at the other two restaurants. Berry said, adding that the store is closed "indefinitely." The Aurora store employed 55 people. "We immediately set up counseling centers for the employees, Berry said, "and secured professional counseling there through a health-care provider in Aurora." Counseling sessions began on Wednesday after the Tuesday night shooting spree and were attended by employees of the other units as well.
He also said the company worked with the families of the victims immediately after the shooting and plans to continue to do so. "We tried to provide anything the families needed and to make personal contact in port and assistance that we could possibly provide," Berry said. The company paid medical and burial expenses as well as the cost of flying in relatives of the victims.
"This crime really transcended Chunk E and reached out into the community and the nation," Berry said. "It was senseless and no rhyme or reason to why anybody would do this. We are just devastated for those victims and their families." Berry, who has been with Showbiz seven months, spend a week in Aurora to handle the crisis. "What I found in handling the crisis was that it doesn't matter what you're title is or what your job is, it's strictly a human event," he said. "It's strictly person to person and heart to heart."
COPYRIGHT 1994 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning