About three dozen people packed into the busy Popeyes in Oxon Hill, Maryland, on Monday night, with many of them waiting to order one of the restaurant’s popular chicken sandwiches.
One man entered the store before 7 p.m., and over 15 minutes “methodically” cut ahead of people in line until reaching the front counter, Prince George’s County Police Chief Hank Stawinski said Tuesday. But before he could buy the meal he intended to get, an argument broke out between him and another man who confronted him about skipping the line, Stawinski said.
Within 15 seconds after words were exchanged, police said, a fight spilled out into the parking lot of the restaurant, leaving the man who had been line-jumping fatally stabbed.
The killing of the man police identified Tuesday as Kevin Tyrell Davis 28, of Oxon Hill, left authorities stunned over the “pointless” violence as they continued to search for the assailant.
“It’s very troubling,” Stawinski said as police released surveillance images of the man suspected in the stabbing and a woman authorities want to question. “It’s absolutely horrible that we are standing here talking about this.”
The stabbing occurred one day after the restaurant chain began offering its chicken sandwich again after sold-out sales this summer.
Investigators recovered a knife at the scene and have no reason to believe Davis and his assailant knew one another before the incident, Stawinski said.
Outside of Davis’ home Tuesday evening, family gathered in mourning. They declined to give their names or speak to the specifics of what occurred Monday night, but said they did not believe the altercation was over a sandwich.
“He was awesome,” a cousin said. “It surely wasn’t over no chicken sandwich. It was senseless.”
“He was a great young guy trying to get his life together like all young people,” said a woman who identified herself as an aunt. “He was a great kid.”
Davis and the man police are searching for were in a line designated for those ordering the chicken sandwich, police said. After the confrontation, Davis was stabbed once in the upper body at the restaurant, police said. He was taken to a hospital and died within an hour of being stabbed, according to police.
Popeyes released a statement saying the company is “very sad to hear about the tragedy in Maryland.”
“We do not yet know whether this was the result of a dispute over one of our products or something unrelated, but there is no reason for someone to lose their life on a Monday night in a parking lot,” the statement read. “Our thoughts are with the victim’s family and friends and we are fully cooperating with local authorities.”
Surveillance video, the chief said, showed that “there are a number of children and families in this restaurant and they are obviously shocked by what is unfolding in front of them.”
Mania over the chicken sandwich began in August when the company introduced it with social media hype that went viral. Customers reported waiting hours in line and backing up drive-throughs to try the sandwich, which was immediately met with glowing reviews. The sandwich was so popular that the company depleted its initial inventory within weeks.
The sandwich, which retails for $3.99 according to Forbes and other outlets, developed a cult following, with some people dressing up as the meal for Halloween. In a short video announcing the rerelease of the sandwich on Twitter, a line of trucks travels down a freeway with ominous music playing and the accompanying text: “This is not a drill . . . We’re fully stocked.”
The killing is not the first instance of violence apparently related to the buzz over the sandwich.
In September, Houston police reported that a man “pulled a gun on employees of [the] restaurant after they ran out of chicken sandwich.” Employees of the store have reported that they’ve been threatened by customers upset over the sold-out item.
Outside the Maryland store Tuesday, a makeshift memorial of candles and flowers rose as the restaurant reopened and customers waited in line.
“I got em!” one woman triumphantly declared leaving the restaurant and holding up her bag of food. “I got four of ’em!”
As people streamed in and out of the restaurant, Davis’ friends gathered around the memorial in disbelief over his killing. They remembered him as a jokester who “always made people smile.”
“My man got stabbed for no reason,” agreed another friend, who like others declined to give their name to reporters, who also gathered. “It doesn’t make no sense.”
Those who passed by the memorial couldn’t understand the senseless violence.
“An innocent life gone,” Leroy Swailes said. “It’s unbelievable. Anger is a serious problem in our society today.”
David Sanchez, a resident of the neighborhood for 30 years, said when he saw the news he couldn’t believe it. Sanchez said he has never had the Popeyes sandwich and didn’t understand the “big deal.”
“It’s only $4,” Sanchez said of the sandwich. “What’s so special about that?”
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The Washington Post’s Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report.