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Man who stopped Tennessee Waffle House shooting from turning into a bloodbath says he's no hero

The brave father-of-one was at Waffle House with a friend when Reinking opened fire outside before going into the restaurant
UPDATED JAN 21, 2020
(Source: Getty Images)
(Source: Getty Images)

The man who stopped a naked gunman in a Tennessee Waffle House on April 22 said he doesn't feel like a hero for stopping the attack from turning into a bloodbarth.

Travis Reinking killed four people and injured seven others when he opened fire at the food outlet in Antioch before James Shaw Jr accosted him and made him flee the scene.

Reinking, who is from Morton, Illinois, is at large and is being hunted by both the FBI and the law enforcement in Illinois.

Police have identified the four people who were killed in the shooting spree: 29-year-old restaurant worker Taurean C. Sanderlin from Goodlettsville, 20-year-old Joe R. Perez from Nashville, 23-year-old Akilah Dasilva also from Nashville, and 21-year-old Deebony Groves from Gallatin, Tennessee.

Of the victims from the incident, Sanderlin and Perez were shot dead outside the restaurant, Dasilva was wounded critically inside the restaurant and died at a later time at Vanderbilt University Medical Center; Groves was shot and killed inside the restaurant.

The gunman was only wearing a green jacket while holding the assault rifle when he started firing away in the parking lot of the Waffle House outlet before he stormed into the restaurant and started shooting there.

Reinking has been added to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's Top 10 Most Wanted List and has been described by police as 6ft 4in and weighing 180 pounds. He is to be considered armed and dangerous.

The gunman was last seen on April 22 around the woods near the apartment complex where he had an apartment. The authorities have said that he could be armed and are not ruling out the possibility that he left the area. He is also believed to be wearing only pants without a shirt or shoes.

Shaw Jr. who stopped the gunman from taking more lives, said that he was only trying to stay alive when he tackled Reinking, grabbed the rifle and threw it over the counter of the restaurant.

On April 22 morning, he said in a press conference with tears in his eyes: "I'm not a hero, I'm just a regular person."

"I think anybody could have did what I did if they're just pushed in that kind of cage. You have to either react or you're going to fold and I chose to react because I didn't see any other way of me living, and that's what I wanted to do, I wanted to live."

According to Don Aaron, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, Reinking had reached the parking lot of Waffle House at 3.19 am and he sat in his pick-up truck for almost three to four minutes just staring at people inside the restaurant.  

He was reportedly completely naked aside from a green jacket. The gunman then opened fire at 3:25 am with an AR-15 assault-style rifle. Reinking's green jacket and two magazines of ammunition were found later.

Aaron said: "He clearly came armed with a lot of firepower intending to devastate the south Nashville area."

Shaw Jr. said in the press conference that he and a friend were at a club before they decided to go somewhere to get food. The Nashville native is an employee at AT&T and has a four-year-old daughter.

The Waffle House that he and his friend went to initially was too full so they drove just two miles to the one where the incident took place. Shaw Jr. said that he saw Reinking sitting inside his truck as he was walking into the restaurant. 

Shaw Jr. said that when Reinking fired the first shots outside, he thought that a stack of plates had fallen to the ground.

He added: "Then the second one happened, then the third one happened, and I saw the Waffle House employees scatter and I saw a person lying on the ground at the entrance of the door."

The father-of-one had tried hiding behind the swivel door when the gunman was entering the restaurant. "He shot through that door and it grazed my arm. That's when I made up my mind - if it was going to come down to it, he was going to have to work to kill me."

Shaw Jr. then found the opportune moment when he saw that Reinking was "trying to reload". "I ran through the swivel door, hit him with the swivel door, and the gun was kind of jammed up and pushed down so we were scuffling."

"I managed to get him with one hand on the gun and I grabbed it from him and threw it over the counter."

The father said that he did not feel the searing heat of the barrel when he grabbed the assault rifle from Reinking. After he threw the weapon over the counter, he pushed Reinking out of the restaurant.

Reinking ran away and Shaw Jr. said in the press conference that he did not follow him because he was afraid that the gunman would have another gun. Moments after Reinking fled, Shaw Jr. hailed two passing drivers to call 911. He also said that he was sorry he could not save more people.

He told News Channel 5: "It wasn't really a process of thinking, it was more so a now, you have to do this now or it's not...if I let him load that weapon there wasn't going to be another window."  

"There wasn't going to be another chance. It was pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel, there was a brick wall behind us and nowhere to go." 

Shaw Jr. was grazed by one of the bullets and was treated for a minor gunshot wound on his elbow. He didn't realise it at the time but his hands were severely burned by the action of him grabbing the assault rifle from the hands of Reinking. He then changed his clothes after he was released from the hospital and went to church with his family. They were joined by Major David Briley.

Although Shaw Jr. is not a religious man, he said that he attended church yesterday because he felt that there was "some divine entity" watching over him during the incident.

He said during the press conference: "In a tenth of a second something was with me to run through that door and get the gun from him. You could probably do that 10 times and only come out one time with the outcome I came out with. Something, some divine entity, was looking over me."

He was also very adamant about the fact that he was not a hero even though the police, FBI and executives for Waffle House commended him for his efforts.

He said: "I just wanted to persevere. I don't want people to think I'm the Terminator or Superman. I just figured if I was going to die, he was going to have to work for it. I rushed him and it worked out in my favor."

"I don't want this to be the focal point of my life. I don't want this to be a major moment in my life, even though I know it's going to be."

Walt Ehmer, the CEO of Waffle House, thanked Shaw Jr. and said of him: "You don't get to meet too many heroes in life but you are my hero".

As of early April 23 morning, more than 80 Nashville police officers were still looking for Reinking after some reports about his extremely disturbing behavior was discovered. 

Waffle House has issued a statement saying that they are "deeply saddened by this tragic incident".

The statement read: "Right now, our first thoughts are with the victims and their families, and we will be there for them in this most difficult time. This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family."

Mayor Briley had said that yesterday was a "tragic day" for the city.

He said in a statement: "This morning our city woke up to tragic news, the fragility of life was brought home to all of us by the death of four innocent Nashvillians. Our heart goes out to all the victims and their families and I ask that Nashville continue to pray and rally around them."

The mayor also called for an increase in gun control for assault weapons. He cited the shooting at the Nashville church where one person was killed and seven others were injured as an example.

He said: "It's been only seven months since we had another mass shooting here in Nashville and that is far too frequent. If we can all just come together for the greater good, we can take these weapons of war off the streets of our country."

"Clearly, the victims of this shooting deserve our prayers and our thoughts, but they also deserve leaders who will step up and take action and do something to take these weapons off our streets."