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How Ohio diners helped police find machete-wielding attacker

Eyewitnesses provided police with a description of the suspect, and video as well.

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Police talk inside the Columbus, Ohio, restaurant where a man attacked several people with a machete on Thursday. Police fatally shot him after he fled the scene.

Kantele Franko/AP

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Quick thinking on the part of employees and patrons at a restaurant in Ohio led to the swift tracking down of a machete-wielding attacker by police, highlighting the role witnesses can play in such incidents.

It all started Thursday evening when the man walked into Nazareth Mediterranean Cuisine in Columbus, left after a conversation with an employee, then returned about a half hour later with a machete and started attacking two people sitting in a booth.

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Employees and patrons tried to stop the man by throwing chairs at him. They didn’t stop him from fleeing, but they did provide police with a detailed description of his white getaway car. One witness even took video that provided a partial license plate number, said Columbus police spokesman Sgt. Rich Weiner.

Police spotted the car nearby at a large shopping complex a few miles away and confronted the man, who got out of the car holding a machete in one hand and a knife in the other. After attempting unsuccessfully to use a stun gun on him, police fatally shot the man when he lunged at them. No officers were hurt.

While eyewitness accounts are often fickle – and even shockingly inaccurate – the immediacy of the response in this case helped police act quickly. The video was certainly key, given the unreliability of human memory. As Scientific American reports:

Many people believe that human memory works like a video recorder: the mind records events and then, on cue, plays back an exact replica of them. On the contrary, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them. The act of remembering, says eminent memory researcher and psychologist Elizabeth F. Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, is 'more akin to putting puzzle pieces together than retrieving a video recording.'

Four people were injured in the Thursday evening attack and sent to nearby hospitals. Their names and conditions, along with the identity of the attacker, haven’t been released.

It's unclear what motivated the attack. Sgt. Weiner said it appeared to be random.

"There was no rhyme or reason as to who he was going after," he said.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.