CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A fired dishwasher shot a chef and was holding a "small number" of people hostage at a crowded restaurant in a tourist-heavy area of downtown Charleston, South Carolina, on Thursday, authorities and one of the restaurant's owners said.
Hostage negotiators were trying to talk to the man inside Virginia's, Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said at a news conference outside the restaurant, located on usually crowded King Street, a line of shops and nice dining that caters to both tourists and residents in South Carolina's largest and most historic city.
"This is not an act of terrorism. This is not a hate crime. It is a disgruntled employee," Tecklenburg said.
Police spokesman Charles Francis said at separate news conferences that the employee was holding a "couple" and "a small number" of hostages. He did not respond to follow-up telephone calls seeking a more specific number and he did not give any details on the condition of the shooting victim.
The shooting was reported shortly after noon Thursday.
Peter Siegert, 73, and his son Peter Siegert IV, 45, were quoted by The Post and Courier of Charleston as saying that just after several waitresses and kitchen workers walked out the door without saying a word, a man in an apron with a gun came out of the kitchen and locked the front door.
He said, "'I am the new king of Charleston,'" the Siegerts said.
The man told diners to get on the floor and move to the back of the restaurant. The Siegerts said they escaped out a back door and didn't know how many people were left behind.
One of the restaurant's owners, John Aquino, told WCSC-TV that a dishwasher who had been fired came back to the restaurant and shot a chef to get revenge.
The first officers to arrive were able to get the injured man to safety, Francis said.
Charleston Police sent SWAT teams and a bomb disposal unit to the area. Authorities instructed people inside to stay inside and those outside to leave the area.
The site is a few blocks away from Emanuel AME church, where nine black members of a church were killed by a white man during a June 2015 Bible study. Dylann Roof was sentenced to death in the case.
It is also just several blocks from where more than 100 cruise ships dock in Charleston each year.
This story has been edited to clarify police instructions to people in the area.