Theater Community Speaks Out for Director After Brutal Attack

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DALLAS -- John Garcia expected a joyful night Sunday. He was announcing the nominations for the 18th annual Column Awards, a ceremony he created, honoring the best in local on stage action.

Right before the live Facebook broadcast started, though, the night turned sour.

It was like out of a movie," Garcia said. "Within five seconds everyone's cell phones started beeping off, beeping off, like what is going on?"

The news wasn't good.

Derek Whitener, the artistic and education director at the Firehouse Theatre in Farmer's Branch, was attacked by two masked men in an uptown Dallas Target parking lot. He ended up in surgery at Baylor Hospital with a fractured skull and is now dealing with brain swelling that's causing speech and motor skills issues according to a statement on his GoFundMe page.

"Had this person gone up to Derek and said, 'Do you have $5 so I can get something to eat?' he would've given him $10. That's the kind of amazing person he is, and I don't understand why this would happen."

Dallas Police say the investigation is ongoing and that they'll speak to media Tuesday, but there is a point of hopefulness. The parking lot at the Cityplace Target is full of signs stating 'Cameras In Use.' Target wished well to the victim and his family but said only law enforcement could discuss surveillance video.

There's more hope for the 33-year-old as well. A GoFundMe page started for him Monday morning skyrocketed past $30,000 Monday afternoon, all of it intended for his medical bills.

"When I saw that, I gotta admit I just started crying because it just again shows how loving and supportive this community of theater is," Garcia said.

When Derek does go home, he's got seven nominations to look forward to: three as a Director, two for Best Musical, one for Best Play, and one for Costume Design.

The rising star in the North Texas stage community has a long road ahead, and his supporters have an easy suggestion for us all.

"Be kind," Garcia said. "My God it's not that hard. It isn't that hard."

UPDATE: Dallas police released new details Tuesday morning: