David McAtee was known around the Russell neighborhood as Yaya, or just the BBQ Man. The well-liked food vendor was known for giving out free food — including to police officers.
The 53-year-old was shot and killed by law enforcement just after midnight on Monday, when police and the National Guard responded to a gathering of people out after curfew. Police say someone shot at them, and they responded, hitting McAtee.
McAtee was the owner and operator of Yaya’s BBQ at the corner of 26th and Broadway. He told Walt and Marshae Smith of the photo blog West of Ninth in February 2018 that he’d been working there for a couple years.
“This location is the one of the busiest locations in West Louisville,” he told them. “I always wanted to be in this spot, and when the opportunity came, I took it. If I go, somebody else will snatch it. I’ve already built my clientele, and I’m not trying to give up my clientele. I’m here for a reason. Eventually, I’m going to buy this lot and build. I gotta start somewhere, and this is where I’m going to start.”
He told the bloggers he lived in Atlanta for a while, and that he “was living a crazy lifestyle, but I had to give it up.”
He said he’s always been blessed with the skills to cook.
“I didn’t need anything else. People have to eat every single day, and all I need is my skills.”
Carolyn Wilder was at 26th and Broadway Monday morning. She said McAtee was family, and a pillar of the community. She said he was always giving away free food to anyone at his barbecue stand, including LMPD officers.
“He was a beautiful person,” she said. “He cooked and would people coming out of clubs and stuff. He tried to feed everybody. He wouldn’t even charge half of them. He would just feed them so they wouldn’t go hungry.”
That’s why he was out last night, Wilder said: feeding people who were hanging around Dino’s Foodmart, a popular community gathering spot.
Wilder’s son worked with McAtee, and was there last night. She said he was safe, but the whole family was heartbroken.
“And we just buried his sister three months ago today,” she said.
McAtee’s mother, Odessa Riley, spoke to the Courier-Journal early Monday. She said he was a good son.
“He left a great legend behind. He was a good person. Everybody around him would say that,” she told the newspaper. “My son didn’t hurt nobody. He didn’t do nothing to nobody.”
Lots of people in the crowd at 26th and Broadway said, even if they weren’t close, McAtee had become a big part of their lives in his own way.
“I know him because he cooks,” said Lynn Berry, who was part of the crowd last night at Dino’s. “I buy his food. He’s always in the neighborhood. He’s just a natural figure that’s always right here.”
McAtee was shot and killed around 12:15 a.m. Monday after LMPD and National Guard opened fire. Police Chief Steve Conrad said they were responding to being shot at. A live video posted on Facebook showed people hanging out in the parking lot, drinking, before the police arrived on the scene.
There were no known protests that far west; Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday morning that he understood law enforcement went out to enforce the 9 p.m. curfew because people were gathered in the Dino’s parking lot, where McAtee sold food.
On Monday evening, as he announced the extension of the curfew for another week, Fischer spoke about McAtee: he was “caught up in this,” Fischer said, and it’s a tragedy.
Councilwoman Jessica Green said she had to tell her son that Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, had been killed. He asked her why. Then she had to tell him that the BBQ Man who they’ve gone every Sunday to see at 26th and Broadway to get rib tips, died too.
“I don’t know the answer to any of it but I know it weighs so heavily on my son,” Green said.