Chad Merrill was just trying to be the peacemaker, according to family and friends, when he stepped up in defense of his friend, a black man, who was being subject to racial slurs and other verbal abuse.
The situation did not end peacefully, however. Moments after speaking up, he was shot and killed at the Red Rose Restaurant and Lounge in York, Pa.
According to the York Daily Record, the ultimately fatal encounter started when James Saylor, the alleged killer, squeezed his way into a group of men seated at the bar. There was a man seated between Saylor and Jerrell Douglas, his initial victim, but that didn’t stop Saylor from launching into his verbal harassment and assault, using the n-word and other racial slurs.
“You could tell he was giving [Douglas] crap...He’s being a jerk,” Hellam Township Police Chief Doug Pollock told the news site. “It was a racial incident; that’s how it kicked off.”
The other men at the bar tried to ignore Saylor. Merrill, who was sitting next to Douglas but further away from Saylor was trying to get Douglas to let it go and focus on him, rather than on Saylor’s verbal attacks.
“[Douglas] didn’t escalate anything,” Pollock noted. “He did the right thing.”
The owner of the bar, Nick Spagnolo intervened shortly after, kicking Saylor out of the bar because of his behavior.
Surveillance footage from the bar shows Saylor walking out and to the parking lot and over to a pickup truck. He attempts to get into the vehicle, but it is not his.
Saylor then pulls a gun from his shorts, half-turns toward the bar and fires the weapon.
The bullet grazed the building (and was later recovered in a nearby grassy area). However, after the first shot was fired, Saylor finally finds his truck and gets inside and starts the engine, police noted.
At that exact moment an Uber driver pulls in, preventing Saylor from leaving the establishment. That allowed Merrill, who had come out of the bar, to catch up with Saylor.
“He was right there, standing next to the truck,” Pollock said.
According to police, it is not clear what, if any words were exchanged before Saylor allegedly fired the fatal shot, but the bullet struck Merrill right in the chest. Saylor sped off, hitting the Uber driver’s vehicle as he left.
Police quickly tracked down Saylor after he was identified as a suspect, nabbing him at his parents’ home where he lives in the basement. Investigators found his pickup truck, which still had fresh damage from crashing into the Uber driver, and they also found blood on the rear driver’s side door of Saylor’s truck.
Police also retrieved Saylor’s gun inside the truck’s center console, as well as a shell casing from the bullet that killed Merrill.
Despite the evidence, and Saylor acknowledging he owned the gun and knew where he put it, “He never once acted like he knew what he did,” Pollock noted.
Saylor is facing charges of criminal homicide and has been denied bail.
Meanwhile, Merrill’s family, including his new 5-month-old son, are trying to figure out how to continue on.
“He was always the peacemaker. He didn’t want people hating each other or the world being segregated the way it is, with the racism you see all over the news,” his brother, Richard Merrill told the Washington Post. “The world wants to keep everything segregated and he would rather have seen everybody get along.”
His family has started a GoFundMe in his honor, which has exceeded its $15,000 goal in a mere two days, raising more than $18,000 for Merrill’s funeral fund. The excess money will go toward helping his son.