‘I can’t believe it’s real’: Family plans to close KCK market after owner’s killing

Family and friends hold vigil for two shot in KCK market

A vigil for two people shot Wednesday inside Edwards Original Corner Market & Deli in Kansas City, Kansas, was held Thursday outside the store. Dennis Edwards, store owner, was fatally shot and a woman was in critical condition.
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A vigil for two people shot Wednesday inside Edwards Original Corner Market & Deli in Kansas City, Kansas, was held Thursday outside the store. Dennis Edwards, store owner, was fatally shot and a woman was in critical condition.

Christina Smith picked up the ringing phone from the table outside her family’s store.

“Edwards’ Deli,” Smith said, as if they were open. “How can I help you?”

It was one of dozens of calls Smith took Thursday morning, less than 24 hours after a gunman on Wednesday afternoon allegedly walked into the business in Kansas City, Kansas, shooting his girlfriend and killing the market’s well-known owner, Dennis Edwards, according to police and family members.

The shooting sparked a two-hour standoff before the suspect was arrested.

A day after the killing, outside Edwards Original Corner Market & Deli, at 81 N. Mill St. Thursday night, over 100 friends and relatives of the victims, Dennis Edwards and Lachelle Day, released balloons, said a prayer and laid flowers and candles at the foot of the steps leading into the store.

Addressing the crowd, David Edwards held a childhood photo of him and his brother, Dennis, recalling memories of selling candy out of the store his parents had opened in 1959. Holding back tears, he said his parents were “the same way as Dennis.”

“He wouldn’t take from you, he would give you something if you didn’t have it,” David Edwards said.

“I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for being here,” he added. “It just shows me how good Dennis was.”

Earlier in the day, family members said they planned to close the store. It was considered a neighborhood landmark to those who lived nearby.

The family hoped to donate the items inside to help homeless people. It’s what 62-year-old Dennis Edwards, known for keeping the neighborhood fed and making deliveries in the area at no cost, would’ve wanted, they said.

When police officers responded to the shooting Wednesday, the suspect allegedly pointed a handgun at them and barricaded himself in the market He was taken into custody about two hours later.

The suspect was shot at least once by a police officer, the only officer who fired, and was in stable condition Thursday morning, said Officer Jonathon Westbrook, a spokesman for the Kansas City, Kansas Police Department.

The suspect has not been identified and no charges have been announced.

Officers found Edwards dead in the building, where he and his siblings were raised. When he reopened the market over a decade ago, he said he didn’t expect to move out of the store and noted: “I plan to die here.”

Police originally said two victims were found dead from gunshot wounds in the market. On Thursday, however, police said when emergency medical services entered the market, they discovered the woman who was shot had a slight pulse.

She remained in very critical condition and was unresponsive Thursday afternoon, police said.

The incident was related to a domestic disturbance between the suspect and the woman, Westbrook said.

As Smith and others gathered Thursday outside the deli, Ellis Nave stopped by to offer his condolences to Edwards’ family.

He identified his niece, Day, as the second shooting victim.

It was only after Nave talked with reporters that police said the female victim had not been pronounced dead.

The shooter had been dating Day for about four months, Nave said. He was unsure why the man allegedly carried out the shooting.

Nave spoke about his niece in the past tense, saying she lived down the street from the market and went there often. She was picking up an order for a cheeseburger when she was shot, he said.

“She was a nice, giving person,” he told reporters. “She was a working person.”

Nave hugged Edwards’ brother, David, in front of the market. He repeatedly told Edwards: “Man, I’m so sorry.”

‘I can’t believe it’s real’

Kevin Helliker, a former Wall Street Journal editor from Kansas City, Kansas, had known Dennis Edwards since they were kids. He called him the “most consistently upbeat person I’ve ever known.”

Helliker described the store as a beacon for residents in the neighborhood. It was a gathering spot where people had access to groceries and knew the owner by name — a rarity in today’s world, he said.

Dale Colbert, now 60, was 2 when he met Edwards, who was 5 at the time. They used to ride bicycles up and down the street on a nearby hill, back when it was made of red bricks. Edwards could go up and down on one wheel, Colbert remembered.

Colbert recalled how the Edwards family gave food to children in need and water to anyone who walked in on a hot day. The neighborhood was poorer back then, he said, and described the Edwards’ as playing a crucial role in nourishing kids who visited.

“There was not a kid who left here hungry,” said Smith, Edwards’ niece.

When Colbert was young, the Edwards family would cut the grass in a nearby lot before setting up a popcorn machine and a screen to play scary movies for anyone who would show up. And plenty did, he said.

Edwards fell on hard times when his parents closed the market in 1986, mirroring the struggles of his neighborhood. He was in prison for about four years for drug-related crimes beginning in 1987, court records show.

But despite his struggles, he told The Star in 2008, his heart never left his community.

“It broke my heart to see the neighborhood going down because it was so good,” he said then. “I had the best childhood anybody could ask for. To see that die, hurt.”

So Edwards gave back. He decided to not only reopen the business, keeping it in the family, but he installed the deli and shopped for antiques, one of his passions, to re-create the era of the 1921 building.

He had another improvement planned: Dennis Edwards had recently obtained his license to sell liquor at the market, his brother said. He wanted to serve people pizza and beer, which became his “proudest joy” in the last two weeks. It’s all he talked about.

Dennis Edwards was expecting to get the coolers Thursday and the beer Friday, something his brother had to cancel. He wanted to take people six-packs with their Philly cheese steaks so they wouldn’t get stopped for drunk driving, David Edwards said.

“That was his greatest wish,” Edwards said.

He remembered how his brother would call often to tell him about who came in the store that day. Hundreds of people have since called David Edwards to offer their condolences, he said.

For David Edwards, the market was more than a building. His father died upstairs and another brother, a Vietnam veteran, died next door. And now his brother Dennis Edwards, who has a daughter and two grandchildren.

“It’s painful,” he said. “And I can’t believe it’s real.”

Police tape still blocked the deli’s front entrance Thursday morning. A crew was expected to clean the blood from the scene.

Though she took some of the calls to the deli, Smith had missed at least 30 of them by Thursday afternoon. Some people, possibly unaware of the shooting, wanted to place orders, she said.

Smith taped a notice to the store about the vigil the family planned to hold for people to say goodbye to Dennis Edwards and his business. She said she wanted to see justice after a fair trial for the alleged shooter.

“I don’t want this man to walk free,” Smith said.

David Edwards talks about his brother, Dennis Edwards, who was one of two people shot at Edwards Original Corner Market, the family business, on Wednesday, July 11, 2019.

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Luke Nozicka covers local crime and federal courts for The Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, he covered breaking news and courts for The Des Moines Register.
Katie Moore covers crime and justice issues for The Star. She is a University of Kansas graduate and was previously a reporter in her hometown of Topeka, Kansas.