If the weather is nice, Andrew Wiedmayer likes to walks the mile and a half home from work. But on the night of Saturday, February 21, after covering a double shift in the kitchen at Bilbo’s Pizza in western Kalamazoo, Michigan, the 28-year-old cook decides to sidle up to the restaurant’s bar and have a drink.
Around 10:30 p.m., one of the servers mentions a shooting. Wiedmayer doesn’t think much of it. But then she shows him a text message from a friend: Some guy is driving around Kalamazoo gunning people down. He’s already shot two people at the Seelye Kia dealership, and another four at the Cracker Barrel. Oh my god, Wiedmayer thinks, that’s like right down the street from us.
It’s a slow night at Bilbo’s. A few college students crowd around a table. Two men shoot pool. A group of hockey fans commiserate after catching a game. A woman and her son visiting from out of town huddle around pizza and drinks at the bar. As word of the shooter spreads across the room, people pull out their phones.
Around 11 p.m., Wiedmayer’s manager begins switching all the televisions to the local news. He kills the music and pumps the TV audio through the speakers. Channel 3 is reporting that the shooter is still at large. Everyone’s eyes are glued to the screen.
To escape the tension, Weidmayer steps outside for some air and a cigarette and tries to wrap his mind around the events unfolding in his hometown — a place that sees occasional shootings, but never before something like this. What if I’d walked home? he thinks. Bilbo’s sits on Stadium Drive, less than a half-mile from the Kia dealership where a man and his son had been killed a few minutes after 10 p.m.
Wiedmayer recalls earlier in the night when he’d seen a fleet of police cars speeding down road. He had wondered then why they were in such a hurry. Now he knows.
Across Kalamazoo, people are doing the same awful American math, triangulating their locations with the reported sites of the slayings.
By this time, #PrayforKalamazoo is trending.
Meanwhile, about two miles northeast of Bilbo’s in Kalamazoo’s Vine neighborhood, Jessica Smith, a 25-year-old journalist and part-time graduate student, is home alone. She’s skimming her social media accounts when she learns the news.
She panics. Smith grabs a small baseball bat. She shuts off her lights, dead-bolts and chains the front door, and calls her mother, who lives a half hour away, to tell her she’s okay. She pictures the shooter driving by her house and opening fire. For the rest of the night, she will try to stay away from any windows.
At Bilbo’s, servers continue tending to customers, or trying to. No one’s sure where the shooter is now, or exactly how many victims there are so far. At one point there are reports of a fourth shooting — false, but no less terrifying in the moment. The manager locks the doors and closes the blinds.
Elsewhere, a young woman prepares for a long night. A gala becomes a bunker.
Then, after midnight, law enforcement begins to narrow in on the suspect. They’re searching for a blue or silver Chevy.
At 12:40 a.m., police make an arrest on the north side of the city. Wiedmayer looks up from his vodka and Redbull to see an officer from the county sheriff’s department announce that a “strong suspect” is in custody. He feels relieved and shocked and tired, all at once. As servers collect dishes and count their tips, customers scramble to pay their tabs and say goodbye.
To the woman who’s visiting from out of town, Wiedmayer says, “Well, welcome to Kalamazoo.” He calls his dad to come pick him up. It no longer feels like a night for a walk.
[Photo: Flickr user WCN 24/7]