The scene at Burke's Cafe was somber and quiet yesterday, a world away from the chaos that erupted Wednesday night when the downtown restaurant's night manager lay bleeding to death from a gunshot wound.
Employees and patrons were struggling to come to grips with the horrible moment when a would-be robber walked into the popular cafe at 36 Light St. and gunned down Tom Lafferty, 36, of Catonsville.
"He was a great guy," said one waitress, while other employees milled around and nodded in agreement.
Mr. Lafferty had the ideal personality for his trade, said Tom Herrmann, Burke's manager.
"He was a real congenial guy . . . a great guy," Mr. Herrmann said. "Tom was a favorite of the regulars."
The night manager had worked at Burke's for about three years and seemed to enjoy it.
"He loved the restaurant business," Mr. Herrmann said. "It was something he loved doing."
Yesterday, family members and friends gathered at Mr. Lafferty's home in Catonsville to comfort each other.
"The wife is real distraught," said a man who answered the door of the brick row house, but declined to give his name. "There are a couple of young kids in the family."
Mr. Lafferty was the father of two young children, ages 8 and 6.
One elderly resident who lives next door to the Laffertys was shocked to learn of the slaying. The man did not want to give his name. He said the family has lived in the neighborhood for more than four years and kept pretty much to themselves. Still, said the man, "he was a nice neighbor."
Mr. Herrmann said he was not in the restaurant at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday when the attempted robbery took place, but about 60 people were. Nearly half of them were at the bar where Mr. Lafferty was working when a man walked through the front door and demanded money, witnesses told police.
When Mr. Lafferty responded, "What money?" he was shot once in the chest with what witnesses described as a .38-caliber handgun. The gunman then ran out of the door without taking any money.
The restaurant became chaotic as employees tried to stop the bleeding, witnesses said. Mr. Lafferty was taken by ambulance to the Maryland Shock-Trauma Center, where he was pronounced dead at 10:49 p.m.
Dennis S. Hill, a city police spokesman, said investigators do not believe that the shooting was connected to a recent rash of robberies at supermarkets and fast-food restaurants in the city and Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.