Kentucky BBQ Owner David McAtee Remembered as 'Pillar of Community' After Being Shot Dead Amid Protests

David McAtee was a beloved BBQ owner in Louisville who was shot to death during protests.
David McAtee was a legendary figure in his Louisville neighborhood.Facebook

Beloved Kentucky BBQ owner David McAtee was shot to death during George Floyd unrest.

David "YaYa" McAtee is being mourned and remembered as a "pillar of the community" in the Louisville neighborhood where he operated a corner barbecue stand, feeding police officers and those in need at no charge. The 53-year-old beloved owner of YaYa's BBQ was killed in a fusillade of bullets shortly after midnight Monday as Louisville Police Department officers and National Guard soldiers tried to enforce the city's curfew.

"He left a great legend behind," his grieving mother, Odessa Riley, told reporters after his death. “He was a good person. Everybody around him would say that. My son didn't hurt nobody. He didn't do nothing to nobody."

McAtee was not protesting, but serving food and talking with a group of neighbors who had gathered to eat and talk, witnesses said. The police and soldiers arrived about 12:10 a.m. because the crowd was in violation of the city's curfew, authorities said.

His shooting is now under investigation by federal, state and local authorities. McAtee's killing prompted the firing of police chief Steve Conrad on Monday by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer after it was revealed the officers involved had not activated their body cameras.

“This type of institutional failure will not be tolerated,” Fischer said. “Accordingly, I have relieved Steve Conrad of his duties.

"We lost a wonderful citizen named David McAtee," Fischer said. "David was a friend to many, a well-known Barbecue man.

"They've nurtured so many people in their bellies and in their hearts before, and for him to be caught up in this, not to be with us today is a tragedy."

But later Tuesday, Louisville police released additional footage they said appears to show McAtee may have fired first. The video, which has no sound, appears to come from inside McAtee's buisnes.

Before playing the footage at the press conference Tuesday, interim Louisville Police Chief Robert Schroeder said it "does not answer every question.

"We are providing this information, because we have made a pledge to this community to be transparent," Schroeder said. "The video appears to show Mr. McAtee firing a gun outside of his business door as officers who are using pepper balls to clear the Dino's lot were approaching. The video does not provide all the answers, but we are releasing it to provide transparency."

Before he was terminated, former police chief Conrad had said officers and soldiers began shooting after someone shot at them. Gov. Andy Beshear, the Democratic governor of Kentucky, said the lack of body camera footage was “unacceptable."

“This is the entire reason that we have those cameras," he said.

Investigators said they were reviewing the cellphone videos of bystanders. In those videos, multiple rounds of gunfire can be heard as people ducked for cover. 

Conrad had already said he would retire this month over intense criticism of his department's handling of the Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old EMT worker shot more than eight times in her bed by officers executing a narcotics investigation search warrant who burst into her apartment as she was sleeping.

Those officers were not wearing body cameras, authorities said.

McAtee had operated his stand in the city's West End section, where he set up shop after cooking his coveted barbecue for decades.

“I’ve been doing this for about 30 years, but I’ve been here for two," he told the blog West of Ninth in a February interview. "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 was also known for donating food to community events across Louisville, where the prospect of his cooking always drew a crowd.

His death is one of at least four that have occurred as protests in more than 140 cities engulfed the country in waves of tear gas, arrests, violence, looting and fires.The demonstrations followed the death of George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis after being held down by police for nearly nine minutes while he called out, "I can't breathe."

A man tries to calm a crowd at Louisville protests over the weekend. - Getty

McAtee's mother and his nephew told The Courier Journal newspaper that he fed police as well. 

"He fed them free," Riley said. "He fed the police and didn't charge them nothing.

"My son was a good son. All he did on that barbecue corner is try to make a dollar for himself and his family," she said. "And they come along and they killed my son."