SAN DIEGO (CNS) - An ex-con who allegedly riddled a Hillcrest restaurant with bullets from an assault rifle -- sending terrified diners ducking for cover but somehow injuring no one -- was charged Friday with 11 counts of attempted murder.
Stefano Markell Parker, 29, was arrested without incident Tuesday night, about 90 minutes after the shooting at The Asian Bistro, 414 University Ave., according to San Diego police.
Parker, who's being held without bail, could face 374 years to life behind bars if convicted of the attempted murder counts, as well as one count each of shooting into an occupied building and being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to Deputy District Attorney Paul Reizen.
Parker, who pleaded not guilty to the charges Friday afternoon, was initially booked on suspicion of nine counts of attempted murder. But two more restaurant patrons have since come forward and told authorities they were present during the shooting, according to the prosecutor. Reizen said he expects additional witnesses may come forward, adding to the litany of charges the defendant faces.
Bystanders made 911 calls to report seeing a man in a trench coat firing numerous rounds from a rifle into the Asian-food restaurant, shattering its front windows, about 7:40 p.m. Following the barrage of gunshots, the shooter lowered his weapon and walked off, Officer John Buttle said.
None of the patrons inside at the time was injured, even though investigators at the shooting scene found at least 19 .556-caliber shell casings.
After a witness reported seeing a man changing his garments in the area and provided a new clothing description, officers found Parker in an alley off the 3500 block of Fourth Avenue and took him into custody around 9 p.m.
Discarded clothes, the rifle believed to have been used in the shooting and magazines for the weapon were located nearby.
The eatery is located in the busy uptown neighborhood, which is home to much of the city's LGBTQ population.
Though some have opined at an anti-LGBTQ motivation for the shooting based on posts on Parker's Facebook page, Reizen said the motive was unknown.
``Obviously, if we do find information, and I know that some people have looked through this particular individual's Facebook account and there's some stuff on there, but at this point, there is no indication that this is a hate crime,'' Reizen said. ``If we get evidence that points us in that direction, certainly that will be something that we will consider adding onto the (criminal) complaint.''
Meanwhile, the restaurant manager on duty that night is recounting the frightening moments.
"I heard three bangs and thought they were fireworks. Then there was a pause. Then three or four more bangs and glass shattering. I told staff to get out the back door," said Bee, who asked us not to use her last name.
Bee went to a counter that looked into the dining room.
"All the windows breaking. Boom, boom, boom. Non-stop bullets. So scary," said Bee.
Bee dove into the kitchen, frozen in fear. After the gunfire stopped, she went back into the dining room.
"I thought everyone was dead for sure. So quiet. I crawled out and one of the customers crawled from a table, and she looked at me. I'm like, 'One is alive!'" said Bee.
She says one by one, the other customers appeared, crawling to the back, before police arrived a few minutes later.
At a news conference earlier this week, SDPD Assistant Chief Albert Guaderrama told reporters that investigators were looking into whether the firearm assault may have been a hate crime, due to possibly anti-gay statements the suspect had posted on Facebook.
During the briefing at downtown police headquarters, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said the ``terrifying'' crime had prompted immediate plans for increased officer patrols in Hillcrest.
``We pride ourselves in San Diego for being a very diverse city and a city that celebrates unique culture,'' Faulconer said. ``That is never going to change. We will stand together to denounce violence, and we will stand together to support our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community.''
Parker was previously convicted and served prison time in connection with a homicide in Alabama in the early 2000s, according to police. He's set to
return to court Feb. 27 for a readiness conference.