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Outraged over the fatal shooting, hundreds of protesters returned to the Wendy’s on Saturday calling for an end to police violence, particularly against black people.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Atlanta protests
The fast food restaurant was eventually set on fire and dozens of people were arrested after a large group of demonstrators climbed a hill and blocked the southbound lanes of the Downtown Connector.
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Atlanta fire Chief Randall Slaughter said firefighters who responded to the Wendy’s had rocks and bricks hurled at them by some of the protesters. That prevented them from getting into the parking lot and extinguishing the blaze before it destroyed the restaurant, he said.
“Our fire crews, many of which are standing behind me now, were actually surrounded and denied access to the Wendy’s when it was set on fire,” he told reporters, adding that some people even climbed on top of the truck and rode it. “It became a very dangerous environment for these firefighters.”
Sgt. Jesus Polidura and firefighter Jimmy McElvery were among those prevented from accessing the scene.
“In a fire, time is of the essence. When we’re delayed, it puts people at risk,” McElvery said. “We didn’t know how much had burned.”
They said they were instructed to move back after about 30 minutes for their own safety and weren’t able to continue extinguishing the flames until police dispersed the crowd.
According to investigators, the fire was ignited by “multiple suspects” who used aerosol cans and lighters. Several fireworks were also set off inside the restaurant, and some protesters tossed debris into the building before setting it on fire, authorities said.
“We don’t have an exact number of suspects accused of starting the fire,” Sgt. Cortez Stafford said. “We are looking for multiple people and still combing through evidence, including tips and videos.”
A $10,000 reward offered Sunday for information leading to the suspects’ arrests has been increased to $20,000 following a contribution from the Georgia Arson Control Board.
ALSO: $10,000 reward for information on suspects who started Wendy's fire
Brooks’ shooting Friday evening made international headlines and comes after weeks of national protests calling for police reform.
According to body camera and surveillance footage from the incident, the 27-year-old managed to wrestle a Taser away from one of the officers before running from them. The video appears to show him turn toward former officer Garrett Rolfe with the stun gun as he ran before being shot and falling to the pavement.
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Slaughter, an Atlanta native, offered his condolences to Brooks’ family and said he didn’t want “the peaceful voices and focus of our protesters to be overshadowed by events such as this.”
Anyone with information about the suspected arsonists is asked to call Crime Stoppers Atlanta at 404-577-8477, text information to 274637 or visit the Crime Stoppers website.