Columns

Hero in Waffle House Shooting Quickly Raises $100K to Help Victims

James Shaw, Jr., speaks after a news conference April 22, 2018 in Nashville. (AP Photo/Sheila Burke)

The hero who disarmed a shooter who killed four people at a Tennessee Waffle House early Sunday has raised nearly $100,000 — and counting — for the victims’ families since the tragedy.

The 29-year-old suspect, Travis Reinking, was arrested Monday after a daylong manhunt. He was originally jailed on $2 million bond; that was revoked today.

Reinking is accused of pulling up to a Waffle House in his pickup truck at 3:19 a.m. and sitting inside for three to four minutes before climbing out and fatally shooting Taurean C. Sanderlin, 29, of Goodlettsville, an employee of the restaurant, and patron Joe R. Perez, 20, of Nashville; both were standing outside. Wearing only a jacket, he also shot up the front window of the location.

Inside, the gunman fatally shot DeEbony Groves, 21, of Gallatin, and Akilah Dasilva, 23, of Antioch. Two others were wounded: Shanita Waggoner, 21, of Nashville, and Sharita Henderson, 24, of Antioch.

Waffle House customer James Shaw, Jr., 29, was in the restroom and seized an opportunity to rush Reinking, fighting the killer for his gun and tossing it over the counter. Reinking fled and shed his jacket nearby; in it, police found two more magazines for his rifle.

Shaw, a Nashville native, attended Tennessee State University and works for AT&T. He has a 4-year-old daughter. He was grazed by a bullet and suffered third-degree burns from grabbing the barrel of the rifle. After being treated and released, he was in church Sunday alongside Nashville Mayor David Briley.

Shaw told CNN on Monday evening that he realized a shooting was happening “when the glass was broke and shattered and there was dust in the air.”

“And I looked back and there was a gentleman right there beside the entrance of Waffle House. And he was laying there on the ground. He was no longer alive. And he shot again and that’s when I jumped from my seat and kind of slid on the ground to the entrance up the bathroom,” Shaw said. “When he started shooting, I actually jumped and lunged towards the bathroom area and I was actually looking at him and then when he — he actually shot towards the bathroom area and I was actually grazed with a bullet in my upper right elbow. After that I think he had to reload. I saw an opportunity to kind of take advantage of him.”

“So I ran through the door as fast as I could and I hit him with the door and that kind of made him a little woozy and he kind of let go of the gun. And then he was tussling for the gun, kind of wrestling for it. And he had it in one hand and that’s when I took it from him.”

Shaw said he heard “swear words” from the shooter but “literally all of it was a blur.”

The man who doesn’t consider himself a hero explained it as such: “Heroes seem kind of like they’re not touchable,” Shaw said. “If I’m looked at as a regular person, if someone else is in this situation, they have that same thing within them that they can project that also.”

Shaw promptly started a GoFundMe page to raise money “to help the families of the victims from the Shooting that took place at Waffle House in Antioch, TN.”

“Please take the time to donate as all of the proceeds will be given to the families. Thank you again for your generosity and blessings!” wrote Shaw.

As of the end of the day Monday, the fundraiser had exceeded its $15,000 goal by hauling in more than $64,000 in a day. By this morning, it was close to $100,000.

Separately, New York magazine/HuffPost reporter Yashar Ali set up a GoFundMe for Shaw. “I normally don’t get involved directly in these matters, but James’ grace has inspired me to start this page to give him the support I feel he deserves,” Ali wrote. “According to news reports, James has a four-year-old daughter. Perhaps this money can be used for her college fund or some other education related expense. But I’d be just as happy if James used some of this money to take his family on a nice vacation.”

That campaign has raised nearly $60,000.

Reinking was fired from a Nashville construction company after co-workers became alarmed about his paranoia, the Tennessean reported.

Reinking reportedly told Illinois police in May 2016 that singer Taylor Swift was harassing him. In June 2017, he threatened a man with an AR-15, then drove to public pool and exposed himself to people there. The next month, he was arrested at the White House after refusing to leave a secure perimeter area; Secret Service said Reinking “wanted to set up a meeting with the president.” In August 2017, police confiscated his weapons. His father told authorities that the returned guns would be locked away from his son, but instead he returned the weapons to Reinking.

In the White House incident, the police report stated that Reinking referred to himself as a “sovereign citizen,” which the FBI defines as “anti-government extremists who believe that even though they physically reside in this country, they are separate or ‘sovereign’ from the United States.” As many as 300,000 Americans are believed to identify this way, with some joining together in groups such as the Republic of Texas and the Montana Freemen.

“We don’t know why he went into the Waffle House,” Metropolitan Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron told reporters Monday. All of the victims were African-American or Latino; police have not indicated if race was a factor in Reinking targeting the patrons.