Now police say Merrill may have been trying to “right the wrong” when he confronted Saylor in the parking lot in defense of his African American friend, according to the York Daily Record.
Merrill’s brother, Richard Merrill, told The Washington Post that while his family was deeply torn by the news of his brother’s death, they were not surprised to hear that Merrill died defending his friend. It was in his nature, Richard Merrill said.
“He was always the peacemaker. He didn’t want people hating each other,” Merrill said, “or the world being segregated the way it is, with the racism you see all over the news. The world wants to keep everything segregated and he would rather have seen everybody get along.”
According to a probable cause affidavit, just before the shooting, 24-year-old Saylor entered the Red Rose Restaurant and Lounge and started yelling slurs at Merrill’s friend, Jerrell Douglas. Richard Merrill said his brother was sitting next to Douglas when it happened. He said he learned from Douglas that Merrill patted him on the back, telling him not to worry and to try to tune it out. (Douglas could not be reached for comment.)
Police said Douglas did exactly that and did not engage with Saylor, who was quickly thrown out of the bar for his behavior, according to the affidavit. But Merrill went outside, apparently looking for the man.
Surveillance video captured Saylor in the parking lot trying to get inside a vehicle that didn’t belong to him, Hellam Township Police Chief J. Douglas Pollock told the Daily Record. He pulled a gun out of his waistband and haphazardly fired a shot toward the building, Pollock said. He then got inside his own truck, at which point Merrill emerged from the bar. Police say it is not clear what words, if any, they exchanged. Merrill started walking toward Saylor’s truck.
Then, when he was about two feet away, Saylor allegedly shot him in the chest through the window.
Saylor then peeled out of the parking lot and, on his way out, hit an Uber vehicle that was pulling into the lot, police said. Police then tracked Saylor to his parents’ house, where he lived in the basement, according to the Daily Record, and promptly arrested him.
Saylor has been charged with criminal homicide and has been denied bail, court records show. He denied the assistance of a public defender, and no other attorney is yet listed for him. But Pollock told the Daily Record, “He never once acted like he knew what he did.”
The extent of Merrill’s relationship to the alleged shooter, if any, is unknown, but the mother of Merrill’s 5-month-old son told the Daily Record the two of them attended the same high school.
Richard Merrill said his brother lit up the most around his new son. He worked as a mason in the area and enjoyed shooting pool at the bar where he died, where he was a regular, Richard Merrill said.
Red Rose Restaurant and Lounge did not return messages seeking comment but shared the family’s GoFundMe campaign for Merrill’s funeral expenses in a post on Facebook, saying, “We would like to extend our most heartfelt condolences to the Merrill family. Please know that our sincere thoughts and prayers are with you.”
Others donating money hailed Merrill as a hero for his actions, with one saying, “Thank you for sticking up against racism.”