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Beloved barbecue chef killed during protests mourned by Louisville community

David McAtee ran a popular barbecue business before he was fatally shot early Monday morning.
Odessa Riley, David McAtee's mother, is led to the site where her son was shot on June 1 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Odessa Riley, David McAtee's mother, is led to the site where her son was shot on June 1 in Louisville, Kentucky. Sam Upshaw Jr. / Louisville Courier Journal
/ Source: TODAY

A community is in mourning after the owner of a small barbecue business in Louisville, Kentucky, was killed in an officer-involved shooting amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.

David McAtee, a food vendor who ran the popular YaYa’s BBQ Shack in the West End neighborhood, was fatally shot after local officers and the National Guard were responding to reports of a large crowd gathered in the parking lot of a convenience store around 12:15 a.m. Monday.

According to a statement from Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad, who has since been fired over the incident, officers on the scene were “shot at” at some point while trying to clear the area and returned fire.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced Monday that Conrad would be relieved of his duties after it was revealed that the officers involved had not activated their body cameras while on duty.

"David was a friend to many, a well-known barbecue man that nurtured so many people in their bellies and their hearts before," Fischer said of McAtee. "And for him to be caught up in this, for him to not be here with us, is a tragedy. It's just hard to put into words."

McAtee was known as a "pillar in his community," with friends and family saying he often gave free meals to many locals, including police officers, according to WFPL.

"He left a great legend behind. He was a good person. Everybody around him would say that," McAtee’s mother, Odessa Riley, told Louisville’s Courier-Journal. "My son didn't hurt nobody. He didn't do nothing to nobody."

On Tuesday, the Louisville Metro Police department released new surveillance video of the incident. Interim Police Chief Robert Schroeder said the footage appears to show McAtee firing a gun before he was killed, but stated that it is not clear what he may have been shooting at (or why), and the investigation is still ongoing. The footage, which was shown to McAtee's family before being made public, has no audio and features angles from two different security cameras. Many people who said they have viewed the tape, including Riley, say the video does not clearly depict the business owner carrying a weapon.

While the investigation continues, people on social media have been sharing photos of the chef and expressing their sorrow and outrage over the circumstances surrounding McAtee's death.

In a February interview with the photojournalists behind the Louisville photography blog West of Ninth, McAtee said that he had “always been blessed with the skills to cook.”

“I’ve been doing this for about 30 years, but I’ve been here (at Yaya's) for two. This location is the one of the busiest locations in West Louisville. I always wanted to be in this spot, and when the opportunity came, I took it,” he said.

McAtee operated his barbecue stand near Dino's Food Mart and had plans to turn his small business into a brick and mortar restaurant.

“I’m here for a reason. Eventually, I’m going to buy this lot and build," he said. "I gotta start somewhere, and this is where I’m going to start. It might take another year or two to get to where I’m going, but I’m going to get there."

Metro Council President David James, who described McAtee as a close friend, said the chef cared about his neighborhood and often offered free food to those in need.

"He’s just a good, decent person," James told the Courier-Journal. "He believes in this neighborhood. He loves his city, loves his neighborhood, loves to cook food, loves to keep people happy with his sense of humor. He’s just a great guy."