Family, friends remember barbecue chef Willis Williams during fatal shooting investigation

Law enforcement had reunited Willis Williams with a daughter who had gone missing days before his fatal Jan. 21 shooting in Riviera Beach.

RIVIERA BEACH — Much of Palm Beach County has tasted the handiwork of Willis Williams. His specialty was prime rib, which he prepared for years while working the grill at McCray’s Backyard BBQ and Seafood in West Palm Beach.

But what the Riviera Beach native cares about most is being the best father to his five children, said Jacita Williams, one of his four daughters. He was shot and killed on January 21, just two days after being reunited with one of his daughters who had been missing for two weeks.

“He was so funny and caring and loving,” said Jacita Williams, who last saw him about an hour before he died, laughing and talking in the garden of the home they shared. “He was a great father. He always went out of his way to take care of us, protect us and provide for us.”

For subscribers:Riviera Beach, long hobbled by segregation, enters second century with new determination and vision

SunFest Thursday is outWhy the West Palm Beach Music Festival is being shortened to three days

Federal investigation:A West Palm-area nursing school, one of three targets of a fake degree fraud investigation

Family, friends saw Willis Williams hours before the fatal shooting

Riviera Beach police had not announced an arrest in Williams’ death as of Sunday. The estranged mother of his missing daughter, Tyshawn Glee, was in the Palm Beach County Jail Thursday after her arrest in Georgia on a custodial interference charge in the girl’s disappearance.

The fatal shooting happened around 3:30 p.m. Jan. 21 outside a grocery store near West 18th Street, northwest of the city’s marina. Willis Williams died that day at St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. His family and friends held a vigil at the site of the Jan. 22 shooting.

Derrick McCray Sr., his longtime friend and owner of McCray’s, was also with Williams the day he died.

“He had just left me,” McCray said. “We were just at (the restaurant) cooking and I was in my truck talking. … We always had a comedic moment almost every day. He quit his job and that was it.”

McCray had known Williams all his life, as their fathers supported civil rights efforts in Riviera Beach side by side in the late 1960s. Williams becomes executive chef at McCray’s, where he has worked since 2006 and which has gained national attention for catering Super Bowl events over the past two decades. He fell into the position naturally, Derrick McCray said.

McCray said he put Williams on paid leave from work to focus on finding his 11-year-old daughter when she disappeared on Jan. 6. The Palm Beach Post is not naming the girl because she is a minor.

The custody dispute involved law enforcement as far away as Georgia

According to a Palm Beach County police report, Williams had sole custody of the girl, with Glee allowed limited supervised contact under a 2018 court order. Glee met the child at the bus stop and dropped her off, police said.

School police said they spoke with Glee that night. She said she drove to Florida to bring her daughter to Georgia after the girl led her to believe there were problems at home. Police said they told her she could not take the child across state lines without speaking to her father and that she had to inform authorities she was with the girl and “that she wanted her out of the system.”

On Jan. 8, Willis Williams told Georgia police that the girl had been spotted at a home in Valdosta, 100 miles northwest of Gainesville, according to the report. When officers arrived at the home, they learned that Glee had left with the child 15 minutes earlier.

Law enforcement found the girl on Jan. 19 and said she was safe.

“We did everything we could to find her,” Jaquita Williams said. “When they called to tell us she was found, (my father) was crying saying, ‘They took my baby!’ We were so happy and hugging each other.”

Glee was extradited to Palm Beach County on Monday. At a hearing Tuesday, District Judge Kirk Volker set Glee’s bond at $10,000, and she is due back in court on Feb. 22. The Palm Beach County Public Defender’s Office is representing Glee. As a matter of policy, she does not comment on open cases.

“He was like a little brother to me,” McCray said. “The thing that’s most devastating to me is that his life was taken while he was trying to be a great father. He wasn’t a perfect man, but one thing he did get right was taking care of his children.

Maya Washburn is a reporter for The Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Florida network. Contact her at [email protected] Support local journalism: Subscribe today.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *