Last update:
April 7th
2001

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The Murder scene

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Danny Overstreet Danny Lee Overstreet

1957 - 2000


"He never drank, but always smiled"

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After leaving the Jefferson Lodge, Ronald Gay went to a local bar, the Corned Beef & Co. There he asked an employee where to find a gay bar. After the employee told him how to get to another gay bar, The Park at 615 Salem Ave., Gay pulled aside his trenchcoat, displaying a gun and said he was going to "waste some faggots," then walked away, heading in that direction.

The employee at this point called police - it was 11:37 p.m. An officer arrived at the Corned Beef two minutes later. At 11:46 p.m., a description of Gay was broadcast over police radio. Five minutes later, a 911 call came in for the shooting, not at the Park, but at the Backstreet Café.

At 11:46 p.m., the officer broadcast a description of the man on his police radio. But five minutes later, the call came: A shooting at 356 Salem Ave. Not The Park, but a tiny bar called Backstreet Café.

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cafeRoland Gay walked into the Backstreet Café, calmly ordered a beer, then started shooting shortly after seeing two men hug.

Witnesses said the man didn't say a word as he pulled a 9mm handgun from underneath his black trenchcoat and methodically fired at least eight rounds, sending bar patrons scrambling for cover. Bullets struck people at random as they ducked and threw up their arms, trying to protect themselves.

John W. Collins, 39, said that Gay "stood up as I was letting go of the hug, and he was turning and he was also reaching into his black trench coat, I saw the gun come out of his pocket. ... Everything was like in a millionth of a second."

Collins was shot in the stomach. The friend he hugged, Danny Lee Overstreet, sitting at a table closest to the gunman, was shot in the chest. The 43-year-old Northwest Roanoke man dropped and died within minutes, despite efforts to help him.

"It was terrible," said a patron named Chris. "Blood everywhere. He was gagging on his blood, so we put him on his side. He died before police got there."

Six other patrons, four women and two men, were also shot in what witnesses described as a chaotic and horrifying scene. "He started shooting anybody that was moving," one of the wounded, Joel Tucker, said afterward. "The only thing I saw was one woman running past me. Her finger had been shot."

After the shootings, Gay lowered his gun and walked calmly to the door. Bar employees locked the door, and those inside attempted to care for the wounded until ambulances and police arrived.

Officers, some on foot, rushed to the scene. It was shift-change time, so officers on the midnight shift were outside the police department, waiting for the evening shift officers to turn over their cars. Those in cars drove to the area, some branching off to search for the suspect.

Within 10 minutes of the 911 call, an officer happened upon a gray-haired, gray-bearded man at First Street and Campbell Avenue. The man was Gay, who calmly put his hands in the air when asked. Police arrested him without incident two blocks away from the shooting. Then he told police the gun was in a trash can near the Virginia Museum of Transportation. Gay had tossed aside his gun because, he later told detectives, he didn't want to hurt a policeman.

The gun was an autoloader, meaning it spews out casings as it fires. It contained a magazine that held 10 rounds, but police found only eight shell casings inside the bar. Gay purchased his gun late last year from a Roanoke gun dealer, and still had the receipt in his pocket when police apprehended him.

Police asked Anna Sparks, 36, and other witnesses to identify the suspect. Sparks peered through the window of the police cruiser and saw Gay staring into space.

"He didn't try to hide his face," she said. "He had this look on his face like, 'I'm proud.' I just wanted to get a hold of him and strangle him. He has no clue as to what he's done to these people and their families."

Gay was arraigned on Monday, and authorities say they will consider the death penalty in the case. Police are investigating the incident as a hate crime and may bring additional charges against him. However, Virginia's hate-crimes law does not include sexual orientation. An attempt this year to include it in the existing bill failed.

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AnnaAnna Sparks, 36, a lifetime Roanoke resident, was at Backstreet with her partner, 44 year old, Sue Stroud, also of Roanoke, on the night of the shootings. Anna's birthday was coming up on Sunday and they wanted to have a few drinks to celebrate it. They're both avid pool players and Backstreet was a friendly place to go, put your name on the board and play partners.

As you enter the club, immediately to the left, is a bar which extends towards the back and a kitchen area. Along the bar, are a number of barstools. About halfway down, there's an opening in the bar where the bartenders go in and out. Just to the right of the opening is a video poker game sitting on top of the bar. Behind that general area, there is a telephone. There is also one up near the front window and a pay phone in the back of the bar, on the right side.

To the right as you come into the bar, is a cigarette machine in the corner next to the front window. Just in front of that are two tables placed together which make a seating area large enough for six-eight people. Looking down towards the back of the bar along the right wall are three or four restaurant type booths. At the end of the booths there's a pool table somewhat centered with the room. Behind the pool table there's a juke box. Behind the juke box, is a dart board and to the right of the juke box is the public telephone.

They arrived at the bar somewhere around 7 p.m. Their friend Judy was riding with them. Since it was a Friday night, in order to get their favorite booth which was the last one in the back, next to the pool table, they had to be there early. As the evening worn on, Ann noticed that everyone seemed be be getting along unusually well. It is a small club, in a small town and sometimes there are a few squabbles but not on this night.

Around 8:30 p.m., the bar began to pick up and throughout the rest of the night people came and went fairly frequently. Ann estimates there was 30-50 people in the club at given times. That was a busy night for Backstreet. Ann and Sue played a number of games as partners against others partners. Anna was in their favorite booth, facing the pool table. Beside her was Wanda, another friend. Both of their backs were to the door. A girl named Charlotte had been sitting opposite them, facing the door, but had gotten up to take her turn at the pool table.

Sue noticed a new face in the next booth to them. She moved to that booth and sat down, next to the girl. Sue was facing the front door, her back to Anna's. The new girl was on the inside of the booth, Sue on the outside. Sue wanted to make the new girl feel welcome at the club. That's the kind of place it was, full of typical Virginia hospitality. Across from Sue and the new girl, in the same booth, sat Judy, facing the pool table.

Anna notes that she never even noticed the gray haired, middle aged man who had taken a seat at the tables near the front of the bar. He did not stand out in any way, everything was calm and festive. Sue and Anna briefly talked about leaving the bar, going over to a local hotel and partying with some friends. Sue told her they needed to stick around for a little while. What Anna did not know was that one of her coworkers who had been over to their house when they left, had called Sue outside and told her not to tell Anna, but she and her boyfriend were going to drop by the bar later that night with some balloons and surprise Anna and buy her a birthday drink.

Somewhere around 11:49 p.m., Anna heard what she thought to be balloons or possibly fire crackers popping. It didn't seem to be all that loud and there was little hesitation between the pops. She heard someone screaming. She jumped up from the booth, swung around and faced the door, leaning against the booth. She thought she heard someone yell "duck'. She was looking at a man down near the front door. The man had a dark trench coat on, a 9 millimeter gun in his hand and was firing back into the bar in her direction. She could see the sparks from the gun as it rapidly fired into the crowd. Something told her to just stand still. She could not believe what she was seeing. Somehow it didn't register what was really happening, that people were being shot. It was like pop pop, ...... pop, pop, ..... pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. She saw people falling everywhere. She saw Sue, ducked down in the booth. She made direct eye contact with the shooter. He looked right at her and pointed the gun at her. Then the popping sounds stopped, he lowered his arm, calmly turned around, opened the front door and walked out.

Someone yelled "Call 911". Anna stepped over and around three female bodies laying in the middle of the floor and ran towards the opening in the bar. She grabbed the phone behind the video poker machine and called the 911 operator. She was distraught and in a daze. Looking out over the bar, she saw bodies strewn everywhere. She was highly charged and begging the operator to get someone there, quick. She could see blood everywhere. The operator, trying to calm her down, asked how many people were down. She could not tell. From her vantage point, she was trying to get a body count. She was trying to see if Sue was ok. Sue had crouched down in the booth but was now up. She could see the three women she stepped over. She could see one man down behind the booth she had been sitting in. His name was Joel Tucker. He was at or near the pool table when the shooting started and shoved Charlotte to the floor. He was shot in the back. She could see John Collins up near the front, laying in the middle of the floor. His shirt was covered in blood and he was bleeding profusely from the wounds in his abdomen. A crowd had gathered near the front of the bar but she couldn't tell who else was down.

Amidst the chaos, Anna thought she heard someone yell "Lock the doors, he might come back". The front door has a dead bolt lock. Someone locked the door. Chuck, one of the bartenders was up near the front door. Sue or someone else was yelling for him to get away from the door. The police still were not there.

Anna ran up to the telephone by the front window and called 911 again. As she dialed the phone, she was peeking through the blinds, looking to see if she could see the killer, trying to see if he was coming back. She saw three or four police cars go by. She was talking to the 911 operator, asking why the police cars were not stopping. By that time, Anna was getting pissed off, saying "Get some help in here". Alan Blankenship, the manager, turned the lights on.

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doorroseFred Jackson and Roy Mitchell, two friends who brought purple and white flowers and a balloon to the bar Saturday afternoon, said the public needs to realize that gays matter -- that crimes, when committed against them, count.

Jackson and Mitchell were only two of those who paid tribute, pausing to pray or to place flowers before the door. As the brightly colored blooms grew in number, one rose wrapped in tan paper stood out.

On the card were three words:

"Hate will kill."

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He was going to "waste some faggots"

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