DALLAS -- Life can change in a matter of minutes, and for actor Derek Whitener, those minutes came Saturday night.
He’d just wrapped his latest performance of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch. He also serves as the theater's Artistic Director. Before heading home that evening, he swung by the Target store on Haskell at Central Expressway in Dallas. What happened next stunned frequent shoppers, and the theater community.
"Of course I was very shocked,"' said Jason Leyva, who works with Whitener at The Firehouse Theatre. You always wonder where these things come from and what motivates them."
He learned of the attack Sunday morning along with many of Whitener's friends and colleagues. The actor told them he’d stopped for groceries just before 11 p.m., and was attacked in the parking lot by two masked men who clobbered his head with a pipe. They got away.
"The fact that an everyday event can turn so tragic, out of just sheer indifference to people and humanity and it’s just heartbreaking," said Leyva.
Whitener remains in ICU at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas. His partner shared a statement Monday, saying, in part, ‘a large contusion causing brain swelling is affecting his speech and motor functions. [Doctors] are hopeful and very optimistic this will subside.’
The actor faces a long recovery, as police begin their search for two people who chose a very public, popular place to commit this violent crime.
Friends have started a GoFundMe page to help with Whitener's medical expenses.
Monday afternoon, Whitener's family released the following statement:
We are deeply saddened by the attack that took place Saturday night involving our son Derek Whitener. Derek is well-known in the Texas theater community, and his contributions to the profession as a director, actor and costume designer are recognized by many.
Derek is a good person, one who delights in using his craft to bring joy to those around him. He did not deserve to be the victim of such a brutal and cowardly attack.
Right now, our family is focused on his recovery. We want to do everything in our power to help him heal and, likewise, all that is possible to support the police in their investigation. In that regard, we’re asking that anyone who saw anything Saturday night come forward and help.
For Derek, we ask for your continued thoughts and prayers.