Deadly gunfire rang out just before closing Tuesday morning inside a chain restaurant outside a New Jersey Mall.
The homicide happened around 12:25 a.m. at the bar inside the Applebee’s Grill + Bar restaurant that sits along Brunswick Pike (U.S. Route 1) near the Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Lawrence Township police said.
The gunman approached the victim, who appeared to be alone at the bar, and shot him once in the head, police said. He died at the scene, the Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said. Police later identified the victim as 23-year-old Devin Smith of Lawrence Township, New Jersey.
No other injuries were reported.
Investigators searched for a dark-colored SUV that fled the scene, police said.
The chain eatery was open at the time of the shooting, as it closes at 1 a.m. each night.
Patrons arrived Tuesday to find that the restaurant didn't open as normal for lunch, as the investigation into the shooting continued.
"We offer our condolences to the family of those impacted," Applebee’s said in a statement. "The safety and security of our guests and team members is paramount."
The local franchise would continue to cooperate with the investigation, Applebee's said.
Tuesday night, Smith's loved ones gathered at the Applebee's to honor him, leaving behind balloons and candles.
"I just lost the father of my child," said Briana Anderson, the mother of Smith's 3-year-old daughter. "I'm trying to be strong for my daughter so she knows she's not alone through this whole process."
Those who knew Smith described him as a man who was the life of the party with countless friends and no known enemies.
"They were just always so happy and lively," said Lisa Trinh, one of Smith's friends. "I don't know who could've done it to him."
Kavon Marshall, another friend of Smith's, arrived at the Applebee's late Tuesday night and delivered balloons, releasing some in the air. He considered Smith his little brother.
"It just don't feel real," Marshall said. "I do miss him. I don't even know what kind of monster would do this."
Police did not release a detailed description of the suspect. The Mercer County Prosecutor's Office said they are working on several promising leads. If you have any information on the shooting, please call Sgt. Gary Wasko or Detective Michael Hughes of the Mercer County Homicide Task Force at (609) 989-6406.