MILLEDGEVILLE -- It was almost 2 o’clock in the morning on Sunday and the barbecue joint turned nightclub was closing.
That’s when the shooting started outside, just down the street.
People ducked and scattered. One young woman raced to her car and ran right out of her flip-flops.
In the commotion, a 21-year-old man was shot and killed. Three people were wounded.
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Moments earlier, Clifford Holsey, 71, the proprietor of Soul Masters Lounge on the west side of town, had switched on the house lights, his signal for patrons to call it a night.
Holsey eased outside to the parking lot to oversee the dispersal. He stood watch by the club’s mailbox next to Ga. 22, the highway that runs to Haddock and Gray, half a dozen or so blocks northwest of Georgia College.
Roughly 60 yards down the road, which is also known as North Glynn Street, Holsey heard gunshots.
It was a fusillade that the county coroner would later describe as an exchange of “many, many bullets.”
What prompted them was still unclear Sunday evening.
The dead man, Diquan Key, of Milledgeville, was found shot to death along a grassy 10-foot-deep embankment across the street and just south of the club.
His body was discovered by investigators as they combed the dark roadside for what a news release described as “a significant quantity” of spent shell casings from the numerous bullets fired.
The three others who were shot were being treated at a Macon hospital with wounds that Milledgeville Police Chief Dray Swicord said did not appear to be life-threatening.
The surviving victims were identified as Quentin Dixon, Kelvin Byron and Justin Grace. Their hometowns and ages were not made available.
As for what prompted the gunplay, the chief said there was an argument and that one crowd confronted another crowd as people were leaving Soul Masters.
“There were several people doing shooting,” Swicord said.
“We’re interviewing some people, ... (but) we’re at a loss right now.”
On Sunday afternoon, Holsey, the lounge’s owner, said he’d sensed trouble brewing, that earlier Saturday night he had turned away younger revelers.
The festivities had been billed as something called the “Westend Funday After Party” for “Grown Folks,” according to the lounge’s Facebook page. Clubgoers 25 and older would get free drinks until 11:30 p.m.
The place is cozy, roughly the size of hole-in-the-wall diner. It was unclear how many people were there.
Holsey said he typically calls the police at closing time to make sure there isn’t any trouble. And he called about 1:45 a.m. Sunday. But before the cops could get there, maybe six minutes later, bullets were flying.
“I tried to duck back inside but they’d done closed the door,” Holsey said of patrons who’d darted back into the club to hide.
It wasn’t clear whether the shooters or the victims had been inside the club at any point, but it appeared those involved had at least congregated in the vicinity as cars were lining the highway.
Holsey said Sunday afternoon that he had since heard word of a possible beef between some rival groups that had been “an ongoing thing” for a week or two.
“We tried to keep the young folks away from here,” Holsey said. “They were supposed to be at the American Legion ... but they decided they wanted to come down through here.”
There was no known description of any suspects Sunday evening.
“They don’t know who it was,” said Holsey, whose son is a local police officer. “Somebody knows, but they said a guy that was in the hospital wasn’t talking. ... He said he wasn’t gonna talk.”
While Holsey spoke, the young woman who’d run out of her flip-flops when the shooting started, rode up in a car. She hopped out and retrieved her left-behind footwear.
She declined to give her name, but said when the gunfire broke out that she was just trying to get away, “trying to go home.”
Holsey, standing along with highway in the 90-plus-degree midday swelter, said he hoped the wounded pull through.
“The baddest part about it is somebody got killed. I know it scared a lot of folks because people are scared of guns -- and I am too. I hate it happened,” he said.
His nightclub opens maybe one night a week.
The yellow sign out front still reads Soul Masters Real Pit Barbecue, but Holsey said they haven’t served much barbecue since his wife’s stroke four years ago.
The place now doubles as a social hall.
On a table inside Sunday afternoon, there were ribbons and a jumbo-sized, pink-topped baby bottle.
Some women were decorating for a “Little Mermaid”-themed baby shower.
To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.