Chris Jones and his staff at Willie B's Kitchen and Lounge did everything they could do to keep a man with a gun behaving erratically out of their Buchanan Street restaurant on Sunday night.
Jones and a security guard confronted the man, who pointed the gun at them and threatened them multiple times. Jerome Wilson, who manages the restaurant, also went outside to help.
"I don't know his mental state. I've seen that guy several times before ... but never with a gun," Jones said. "He wasn't right."
Jones asked Wilson to call the police around 6:40 p.m. while they tried to hold the man off. Around 40-50 people were still inside the restaurant at the time. Willie B's sits amid a string of tightknit, Black-owned businesses along Buchanan Street, according to Jones.
Jones said he saw the man throw something on the ground as a police officer approached. He thinks it was the gun, but he was too far away to be certain.
When the police first arrived, Wilson said, he felt relieved and hoped officers would de-escalate the situation. When he saw the officer pick up his pace toward the man and take a stance, that feeling changed.
"I knew it was over," Wilson said.
Wilson was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher as the shots rang out.
"Don't shoot him!" Wilson cried out repeatedly as he paced, fell to his knees and wept. His anguished reaction was captured in audio of his 911 call later released by the Metro Nashville Police Department.
The man died. He had not yet been identified Monday evening as police were working to notify his next of kin. The shooting is under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Both Jones and Wilson said they had hoped police would ease the situation, but they had debated whether or not to call 911. Monday evening, Jones said he was traumatized and hadn't slept. He was still wrestling with the decision to call police.
"I just hate that he had to lose his life," Jones said. "I wish something else could've been done.... I did what I felt like I needed to do to keep my staff and my customers safe. That was my only concern. I did the best I could."
Warning: This video may be upsetting to some viewers.
'We're just trying to build a community'
Both Wilson and Jones are Memphis natives and connected through mutual friends. They've worked to build Willie B's since it first opened in the bustling Buchanan Arts district in summer 2020. Other businesses dot the area, including the original location of Slim & Husky's Pizza Beeria, Minerva Avenue, The Rollout, the Buchanan Arts building, a photo studio and a gallery.
While they are shaken by what happened, Jones and Wilson also don't want it to cast a bad light on their community.
"We feel like it's safe over here," Jones said. "This could've happened anywhere."
Wilson said he's proud of what they've built in North Nashville and hopes that continues.
"These businesses give back to each other, give back to the community," Wilson said. "We're just trying to build a community up."
Find reporter Rachel Wegner at email@example.com or on Twitter @rachelannwegner.
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This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Restaurant owner confronted man before fatal Nashville police shooting