Comet Ping Pong shooter pleads guilty to gun, assault charges

WASHINGTON — The North Carolina man who terrorized patrons of a D.C. pizzeria when he opened fire with an assault rifle pleaded guilty on Friday to two charges stemming from the December ordeal as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Edgar M. Welch, 28, entered guilty pleas to a federal charge of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition plus a D.C. charge of assault with a dangerous weapon.

In December, Welch drove from North Carolina to Comet Ping Pong, on Connecticut Avenue, to investigate internet rumors that the restaurant was a front for a child sex ring. The FBI has determined the rumors were groundless.

Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, and slip-on sneakers, Welch answered “yes, ma’am,” when asked if he was pleading guilty because he is guilty.

Welch faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced in June. But attorneys said sentencing guidelines recommend between three and seven years.

After completing his prison sentence, Welch could also serve up to six years probation.

He agreed to pay $5,744 to the owner of Comet Ping Pong for damage to a computer system, locks and a pingpong table.

Prosecutors dropped a D.C. charge of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence, which carried a minimum sentence of five years.

Welch caused a panic in the restaurant when he walked in with an AR-15 across his chest and holding a .38-caliber revolver. Both were loaded.

Prosecutors said that Welch fired the assault rifle multiple times into a locked door and pointed the rifle at an employee after others had fled. He spent 20 minutes alone inside the eatery before he walked out unarmed and was arrested.

Police also recovered a shotgun and ammunition inside Welch’s car.

U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji B. Jackson told Welch that with a felony conviction, he would no longer be allowed to own a firearm.

Jackson is not bound by the sentencing guidelines, and could impose prison time ranging from none to 20 years.

After his arrest, Welch told The New York Times he “wanted to do some good, and went about it the wrong way,” in self-investigating what authorities say is a false internet story that claimed a child sex ring was being run in the basement of the restaurant.

Fans of the restaurant stood by the pizzeria and flocked there in droves to support the local business in the wake of the gun scare.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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