Pendleton diner closes temporarily after shooting deaths
By Christina M. Wright The Herald Bulletin, July 31, 2010
PENDLETON — A woman allegedly shot by her ex-boyfriend — who then reportedly killed himself — had split with the man because she wanted to be her own person, said the woman’s best friend and business partner.
“I think she still cared for him and they were just growing apart,” Donna Cantrell said Saturday afternoon. “She had things that she wanted to for herself and her family.”
Pendleton police said in a news release that Robert Jones, 56, of Madison County, entered The Diner (sometimes called Deb & Donna’s) with a revolver and a semi-automatic handgun at about 5 a.m. Saturday. He confronted his ex-girlfriend, Debra Aynes, 51, co-owner of the place, then shot her before turning the gun on himself, the police said.
Cantrell briefly spoke Saturday afternoon about Aynes’ winning personality and her recent attempts to be a better grandmother.
She stood outside the taped-off diner as a crew from Aftermath Inc. worked inside the building and former employees comforted each other outside.
A bright-orange poster hung in the front window next to a painting of a grinning chef that read: “Closed until notice. We lost our beloved Deb today. We will miss you and remember you forever. Love you.”
“She had a natural energy,” Cantrell said, eyes glistening. “She was just full of energy.”
Cantrell said the best friends of 20 years worked at a declining restaurant 14 years ago and decided to open The Diner on customers’ suggestions. She said the two worked together well, and both loved the diner.
In fact, Cantrell said, the love for the business was why she believed Aynes couldn’t have thought Jones would become violent after their break-up. She said Saturday was Aynes’ first day back to work since leaving Jones on Wednesday.
“I know, if she felt like he was a danger, she wouldn’t have brought it to work,” Cantrell said. “She wouldn’t have brought it to the diner.”
Cantrell speculated that most employees and friends wouldn’t have thought Jones would be capable of what he’s alleged to have done Saturday, Cantrell said.
She said it was well-known that Jones spun tall-tales, but no one seemed to view him as dangerous. Cantrell said there was no previous domestic violence.
Friends, Cantrell said, recognized that Jones was a bit controlling, but not overly so.
“It wasn’t to the point that she couldn’t go anywhere,” Cantrell said. “It was just, he wanted her spare time to be his. ... And he was good at spinning ideas to where she thought they were hers.”
Cantrell said Saturday evening she would call Jones’ son to ask if he would like to comment on events, but the son had not contacted The Herald Bulletin by publication time.
It was the draw of spontaneity, freedom and, mostly, a relationship with the children of her three children that finally pushed Aynes to call her relationship quits after 25 years, Cantrell said.
“In getting her own business and getting her own way, I think she thought it was time,” Cantrell said, adding that Jones wasn’t comfortable around children and Aynes yearned to have her grandchildren spend the night with her.
Cantrell said Jones wanted Aynes to call off the breakup. She said the one waitress and one customer in the diner Saturday morning said they’d heard Aynes say, “I’ll come back home.”
The customer was a regular who often made it to the restaurant even before the waitresses and made coffee for Aynes, Cantrell said. She said the customer and waitress were “pretty shaken up.”
Co-owner Cantrell, who wasn’t at the business Saturday morning when the tragedy occurred, later found unfinished gravy in the kitchen, which told her Aynes had just gotten to work.
“Coming around the bend and seeing all the lights, it just made you realize it was true,” she said. “I was hoping it was somebody’s really sick joke.”