BILOXI -- She was shot in the head because she asked somebody not to smoke.
A 52-year-old Waffle House server was doing her job, enforcing the no-smoking policy at the restaurant franchise in the 2400 block of U.S. 90, when she was shot by the customer she told to put out a cigarette.
Her name has been withheld until her next of kin are notified.
She had already spent eight years of her life as one of the restaurant's beloved servers. She spent some of her last moments asking customers if they had enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday.
"Our associates are in shock over the whole incident," said Pat Warner, vice president of Waffle House's corporate office in Atlanta. "It's a senseless tragedy. We lost a very good associate who was loved by her co-workers and her customers. "I've been with Waffle House for 16 years and don't recall anything like this. You really can't describe how you feel."
Biloxi police Sgt. Donnie Dobbs said Johnny Max Mount, 45, is accused in the waitress' killing about 1 a.m. Friday after he lit a cigarette in the restaurant. Police believe Mount pulled out a 9mm handgun and shot the woman. She died a short time later at Merit Health Biloxi, shot once in the head.
Biloxi police arrested Mount as he was walking out of the restaurant. They booked him into the Harrison County jail on a charge of first-degree murder. Justice Court Judge Albert Fountain set his bond at $2 million.
Corporate staff helping
Warner said that U.S. 90 Waffle House was smoke free. Some of the chain's restaurants do allow smoking.
However, Waffle House prohibits firearms in its restaurants unless the customer works in a law enforcement field, or the military, Warner said.
Corporate personnel came to Biloxi as soon as they learned of the shooting.
He said they are helping out so distraught employees could stay home if they wished. Some, he said, chose to come in. The restaurant was closed while Biloxi police investigated the crime, but then reopened.
"We have lined up some grief counseling for the employees as well," Warner said. "We are going to help the employees any way we can. We are giving them space right now."
'She was so friendly'
Customer Richard Bonin said she served him and his two friends just before she was shot.
"I was just in shock when I found out," he said. "It gave me the chills. It's just a weird feeling to think we might have been her last customers."
Bonin said he often goes to that Waffle House because "it's my favorite."
He said he and his friends stopped in to eat shortly before midnight.
"She was so friendly," he said. "She sat down and talked to us. It wasn't too busy then, just a few more people in booths."
She asked Bonin and his friends if they were having a good Thanksgiving. "She told us she was tired, but she was making the whole conversation about us," he said.
"I just can't believe this," he said. "She was honestly so nice."
Mount has no felony record, but he does have misdemeanor violations.
People lit up Twitter and Facebook on Friday asking about him, wondering what could have set him off or what the issue was. Was it just about smoking?
'Not a monster'
Rebecca Berry, a friend of Mount's family, said it's tradition for her and her family to take a break during post-Thanksgiving shopping to eat at a Waffle House. This year was no different.
She said the same waitress served them.
"She came to us and talked to us," Berry said. "She asked us about our shopping and if we had gotten any good deals."
When they pulled out, she said, she noticed several other cars pulling in.
Berry was at a store in D'Iberville when she received an alert about the fatal shooting and the man arrested in the case. "I knew the name immediately," she said. "I am friends with his family."
Berry said she's spoken to his family and they are devastated.
Mount, she said, "was not a monster," but instead suffered a traumatic brain injury when he was injured in an accident years ago.
On Christmas Eve 2002, Mount was standing in the middle of the southbound lanes of U.S. 49 about 2:30 a.m. when he was hit by a 1997 Taurus. Gulfport police told the Sun Herald then they did not know why he was standing in the road and the accident was "unavoidable." The driver was not charged.
Mount was airlifted to the University of South Alabama Medical Center. He was seriously injured, including the loss of a limb.
Berry said the injuries included a traumatic brain injury.
"He was a good person," she said. "He wasn't a monster. I don't know, something just snapped. I don't know of any other volatile things that he's ever done. I know his mother is devastated."
"Our prayers are for the victim because she didn't deserve this, but pray for both families. He wasn't a cruel person. He wasn't a monster. We don't understand. Pray for both families."
A former Biloxi firefighter
Mount worked was a Biloxi firefighter for about 10 years. Fire Chief Joe Boney said Friday he had been a good employee, but that he hadn't kept up with Mount since he left shortly after his accident in 2002.
Still, he said, "it's unbelievable that this happened."
"I don't know what would happen to push him to that," Boney said. "It's just one of those things that is incomprehensible to me. It's a tragedy for both families. We pray that he can get the help he needs if he needs it. Obviously, he does."
Biloxi Police Chief John Miller said the investigation is ongoing, but he had a few thoughts about what occurred.
"I just don't understand why somebody would be so upset over a cigarette," he said. "Some stuff like this just defeats logic."
The shooting Friday wasn't the first at a South Mississippi Waffle House.
In May 2013, a gun discharged at the Waffle House on Reynoir Street in Biloxi, shattering a window. The shot was fired after a man walked in with friends, then got into an argument with two male patrons. The man pulled a gun and pointed it at one of the two. Another customer grabbed him and threw him to the ground and the gun discharged. The man was arrested on a charge of attempted aggravated assault.
Jeff Clark, Sun Herald staff writer, contributed to this report.