MURDER AT APPLEBEE’S
Man shot to death at the bar in Applebee’s in Lawrence
LAWRENCE » It appears no place in America is safe from gunfire. Not even a chain restaurant in a quiet, small suburban New Jersey town.
Devin Smith, 23, was shot and killed inside Applebee’s on Route 1 around 12:25 a.m. Tuesday.
Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity say Smith was sitting at the bar having a drink when a gunman walked up on him, shot him in the head and left the premises.
It’s unclear whether anyone accompanied Smith at the restaurant, but sources say he was sitting alone when he was murdered. No other injuries were reported.
The suspect, described as a black man in his mid20s, fled the restaurant in a dark-colored SUV, according to the county prosecutor’s office.
No arrests have been made as the investigation continues. The motive for the killing is not known at this time, but sources believe the gunman and victim had a long-standing beef that culminated in murder.
Up until Tuesday’s homicide, Lawrence had not experienced a single gun assault all year. In 2015 and 2016, the township experienced only two and three gun assaults, respectively. The last murder to happen in Lawrence occurred at the Sleepy Hollow Motel on Brunswick Pike in 2001.
“I think our crime has been historically low over the course of the past several years due to the diligence and proactive policing strategies of our officers, detectives and supervisors,” Chief Mark Ubry said.
Although the township has less than 35,000 residents and rarely experiences homicides, cops in Lawrence say they try to remain diligent and anticipate violent crimes. However, this crime was not something one could anticipate, a source said, adding “It’s unfortunate it happened in Applebee’s.”
An Applebee’s spokesperson said via email the local franchisee is fully cooperating with investigators.
“We offer our condolences to the family of those impacted,” the statement said. “The safety and security of our guests and team members is paramount.”
Smith’s body remained in the restaurant for nearly 12 hours. Officials removed it from the building around 12:30 p.m. Shortly thereafter, condolences and memories of Smith, who was affectionately known as “Dynomite,” were shared on Facebook. His friends expressed sorrow about the “senseless” act that took his life, while remembering him as a loveable “goofball” who always found a way to have a good time.
A woman intimately linked to Smith, Briana Anderson, posted video of them dancing at a nightclub. They both had smiles on their faces as they swayed to the music. The couple appear to have a child together. In the post, Anderson talked about raising their daughter without Smith.
“No matter what we’ve been through, you still made a way to make me smile,” Anderson wrote in tribute. “Thank you for the greatest gift ever. I can cherish Olivia for the rest of her life and I know you will always be looking down on her, seeing the beautiful, smart and intelligent lady she will grow into.”
Another friend, Marco Rios, said in a Facebook post he remembered going to church every Sunday with Smith and his mother. The two grew up together playing video games and shared other fond experiences.
“I remember staying up all night playing video games with Devin ‘Dynomite’ Smith,” Rios wrote. “I remember when I was a young boy I went missing cause I didn’t have a phone and I was at my friend’s house, so my mom called the cops and all her friends to find me. When I got home, Dev and his mom was there making sure I was good. It’s so many memories I have with you, bro, that I will never forget . ... My heart still hurts. I don’t even have the words right now but I love you, bro. Watch over me, brother. ... I just don’t understand why this happened.”
Anyone with information about Smith’s murder is asked to contact the Mercer County Homicide Task Force at 609-989-6406.
Investigators outside the Applebee’s in Lawrence after a murder happened in the restaurant early Tuesday morning.
Police hold up a sheet as they remove the murder victim’s body from the Applebee’s in Lawrence.
A canine unit searches the parking lot outside the Applebee’s in Lawrence after a murder happened in the restaurant early Tuesday morning.