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Restaurant Sets An Empty Table For Chattanooga Shooting Victims


We go now to Chattanooga, Tenn., where residents there are mourning the shooting deaths of five U.S. service members. There's a makeshift memorial outside the recruiting building where one of the attacks happened. But reporter Emily Siner of member station WPLN found another tribute - this one in a most unexpected place.


EMILY SINER, BYLINE: The Texas Roadhouse in Chattanooga is like every other Texas Roadhouse in America. There are wood-paneled booths and tins filled with peanuts and top 40 country playing outside. But today, there's one booth in the middle of the restaurant that's strikingly different. It has a white tablecloth and beer mugs turned upside down. It's set for five people - the four Marines and one sailor.

AMANDA BRADLEY: I mean, it just - it brings it to life. It really happened.

SINER: Amanda Bradley just finished lunch at a table a few feet away. She says she kept looking over during her meal.

BRADLEY: They're not going to get to eat with their families anymore.

SINER: Another patron, Alda White, says it's a stark contrast to the other memorial.

ALDA WHITE: All the other things you see - I mean, all the balloons - and this, you just kind of walk up on it. And you're like, oh. It just kind of takes you 'cause it was just so simple.

SINER: People came by to see the booth. Some bowed their heads; others took pictures. Patrick Todaro, the store's marketing director, says one of his managers is a former Marine and created the display on Friday.

PATRICK TODARO: With a Marine flag and a little plaque explaining why we did what we did and a folded American flag on the table.

SINER: Todaro also has a personal connection. He was part of a church fellowship group with Randall Smith, the Navy petty officer who was fatally injured in one of the attacks. They had hung out Tuesday night.

TODARO: We watched the MLB All-Star game. I brought ribs from here. Me, him and a couple other guys just watching the baseball game.

SINER: Todaro says they were just becoming good friends.

TODARO: He was an amazing man. Stuff like that's not supposed to happen here.

SINER: On Friday, when this Texas Roadhouse first set the table, there were only four settings because Smith was still in the hospital. On Saturday morning, Todaro found out Smith had died. He went into work. He walked over to the booth with a freshly washed beer mug and turned it upside down. And, trying not to cry, he set the table for one more. For NPR News, I'm Emily Siner in Chattanooga. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Siner is an enterprise reporter at WPLN. She has worked at the Los Angeles Times and NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., and her written work was recently published in Slices Of Life, an anthology of literary feature writing. Born and raised in the Chicago area, she is a graduate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.