A theater director from Keller who has worked on productions at multiple companies across North Texas is recovering in the hospital after he was attacked with a wooden rod in a Target parking lot after a performance Saturday night.
Derek Whitener, 33, had just performed in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch, where he serves as actor and director, when he stopped by Target on Haskell Avenue in Dallas, WFAA reported.
As Whitener entered the store, two men began walking toward him, Dallas police said. Surveillance video shows the two walking away as he gets to the front door. While he was inside, Whitener reported the two as suspicious.
Target security as well as an off-duty Dallas officer asked the two men to leave the property, police said.
Around 11 p.m., Whitener left Target and as he was walking toward his car, one of the men made a threatening statement and then beat him with the rod, police said.
The men, both in gorilla masks, fled on foot.
Police obtained surveillance video that shows the men around the building. They are described as black males 18 to 20 years old, around 5 feet 9 inches tall and 150 pounds.
One was last seen wearing a gray jacket, black pants, gloves and a backpack and armed with a 3-foot wooden dowel rod. The other was seen wearing a black sweatshirt with white lettering, red and blue jeans, white Nike shoes, and a black backpack.
Police are unsure why the men were on the premise but surveillance video showed them lifting the handles of car doors in the parking lot, police said at a press conference Tuesday.
Whitener’s skull was fractured. He is recovering in the intensive care unit at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, according to The Dallas Morning News. Police said he had severe injuries but was expected to recover.
An update on his GoFundMe page said that a hematoma he suffered in the attack was almost gone Monday morning but that “a large contusion causing brain swelling is affecting his speech and motor functions.”
His family released a statement Monday describing their son as “a good person, one who delights in using his craft to bring joy to those around him.”
“We are deeply saddened by the attack that took place Saturday night involving our son,” the statement said. “He did not deserve to be the victim of such a brutal and cowardly attack.”
The family encouraged anyone with information on the attack to come forward.
His GoFundMe page has raised over $50,000 in just over a day for his medical expenses.
David Moore, Firehouse Theatre’s executive business director, told the Morning News that Whitener started his full-time position as artistic and education director Jan. 1.
Moore told the newspaper that Whitener, who went to the Fashion Institute of Technology and Marymount Manhattan College, caught his eye in 2015 with his first directing job, on The Drowsy Chaperone.
“We’re thrilled that he’s with us,” Moore told the Morning News. “He brings hope and light. He’s a great storyteller and we love every show he does. His shows touch your heart regardless of the subject.”
Whitener has worked in many theaters across North Texas including costume design in the production The Nosemaker’s Apprentice at Amphibian Stage Productions in Fort Worth, performing and designing in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in Bedford, and performing in Les Liasons Dangereuses in Arlington.
He has also worked at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, Zach Theatre in Austin and Dallas Children’s Theater, according to stagewest.org.
Anyone with information on the attack should call 214-671-3639 or Crime Stoppers at 214-373-8477. Crime Stoppers is offering up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest.
Whitener has also been designing costumes for the premiere of Stupid F------ Bird at Stage West Theatre in Fort Worth, which opens Thursday and runs through Feb. 19, according to stagewest.org.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.