BILOXI -- Waitress Julie Brightwell ducked behind a counter to avoid being shot after telling a Waffle House customer not to smoke, according to court records.
She knew to hide, court records show, because her accused killer, Johnny Max Mount, had pulled a 9 mm handgun from his waist and pointed it at her after she told him he couldn't smoke in the restaurant. The incident happened about 1 a.m. Friday, shortly after Mount arrived, sat at a counter seat and went to light up.
When Mount pointed the gun at Brightwell, she tried to hide from her killer, the reports say, but Mount stood up, leaned over the counter and shot her once in the head. Brightwell, 52, was pronounced dead at Merit Health Biloxi a short time after the shooting.
Immediately after firing the fatal shot, records say, Mount walked outside and placed his 9 mm handgun and a holster on top of a white Toyota Tacoma in the parking lot. Then, reports say, he walked back in the restaurant and went to the restroom. While he was in the bathroom, witnesses ran outside and started dialing 911 for help.
Biloxi police arrested Mount, a 45-year-old former Biloxi firefighter, as he walking back out of the restaurant for a second time. He was booked at the Harrison County jail on a charge of first-degree murder.
In addition to witnesses, video surveillance cameras caught the entire incident on tape.
On Monday, he had his first court appearance and questioned the judge.
"Is the death penalty going to be involved in this charge?" Mount said to Justice Court Judge Albert Fountain.
In response, Fountain read the law regarding a capital offense, the only crime in the state punishable by death sentence. Mount is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison on a first-degree murder charge.
At Monday's hearing, Mount said he wanted to have a preliminary hearing, which Fountain said will be set in the next few weeks. The judge upheld the $2 million bond, and said a public defender will be appointed to represent Mount.
Harrison County jail Warden Evan Hubbard said Mount is being held in the medical block at the jail for medical reasons.
Brightwell had been working for Waffle House for eight years at time of her death. She had worked at that particular Waffle House since June 2014, when it reopened after being destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.
According to Pat Warner, vice president of Waffle House's corporate office in Atlanta, a candlelight vigil in memory of Brightwell is set at 5:15 p.m. Friday on the beach across the street from the restaurant on the 2400 block of U.S. 90.
"One of her coworkers is planning on singing," he said. "She had been encouraged by Julie to pursue her singing, so she wanted to do that."
Warner said he and other senior corporate officials are hoping to make it to the memorial.
In addition, he said, Waffle House plans to cover the funeral costs for Brightwell and help her family "any way we can."
Since the shooting, Warner and employees from other restaurants have filled in for those workers who needed time away to grieve and come to terms about what happened.
"Julie touched a lot of people," he said. "This tragedy doesn't just affect this one restaurant. It affects our entire market. All of our associates knew her or knew of her."
Brightwell, he said, had been hand-picked to help reopen the Waffle House last year.
"She was picked because she was such a good associate," he said. "She had that kind of personality that made you feel better when you came in and dined with us. She seemed to really bond with her customers and she made sure they had an enjoyable visit while they were there."
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Brightwell's family with expenses.
Though some Waffle House restaurants allow smoking, the one where Brightwell worked was smoke-free.
Waffle House also prohibits firearms in its restaurants unless the customer works in a law enforcement field or the military, Warner said.
Customers said Brightwell spent some of her last minutes alive asking them if they'd enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday or if they had found some good deals during their post-Thanksgiving shopping.
Mount has no felony record, but he does have misdemeanor arrest records for two DUI offenses, one in Harrison County in August 2002 and another in St. Johns County, Fla., in November 2013. In November 2002, he also was arrested in Gulfport on misdemeanor charges of leaving the scene of an accident, reckless driving, and driving with a suspended license as a result of a DUI.
Since Brightwell's killing, people have taken to Twitter and Facebook to talk about the killing and many are wondering what could have set off the accused.
A friend of Mount's family said he "was not a monster," and that something must have "snapped" in him.
On Christmas Eve 2002, a car struck Mount while he was standing in the middle of U.S. 49 in Gulfport. A family friend said he lost a limb and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Mount stopped working for the Biloxi Fire Department after the 2002 accident.
Biloxi police are continuing their investigation.