Waffle House hero: "I saw my opportunity and I attacked"

James Shaw Jr sounds as though he’d like to be anywhere else except on camera, but the man who stopped a mass shooting by forcinbly disarming a mass murderer seems to have little choice. Everyone wants to hear his story of grace under fire and thank Shaw for his action. Shaw himself got grazed by a bullet and scraped up in the fight, but tells NBC’s Today that viewers should keep the seriously wounded and families of the killed in their minds more than him.

As for his decision to confront the shooter, Shaw simply says that he “saw his opportunity” and decided action was a better bet than hiding:

They’re still looking for the shooter, but thanks to Shaw, several potential victims are still alive today. Despite Shaw’s reluctance to embrace the role, Nashville police credited his “heroic action” for ending Travis’ Reinking’s shooting spree:

At the news conference Sunday afternoon, Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said that as the gunman was shooting, “a patron of the restaurant, James Shaw Jr., ran to the restroom area of the Waffle House, saw that the shooting had stopped, and saw an opportunity to intervene. Mr. Shaw wrestled the rifle away from Reinking and tossed it into another part of the restaurant to end the gunfire. Mr. Shaw saved, obviously, many lives in his heroic action.”

After the third gunshot, the window burst, Shaw said, and Waffle House employees scattered. Looking back, he saw someone lying on the ground at the door. He jumped toward the restroom, he would later tell the Tennessean newspaper, and stood behind a swivel door, where a bullet grazed his arm.

That’s when Shaw decided to act.

“I kind of made up my mind, because there was no way to lock that door, that if it was going to come down to it, he was going to have to work to kill me,” he said.

When he heard the shooting stop, he rushed out.

Shaw, who works for AT&T, said the shooter was either reloading the gun or the firearm had jammed, and he wrestled it away and threw it over the counter. Still fearing for his life, Shaw said he rushed toward the front door of the restaurant, pushing the shooter out also.

The gunman then left, Shaw said.

Reinking remains on the run. Police believe he went back to his apartment to put on some pants but left without a shirt. They’re not sure whether he has any more firearms, but law enforcement assumes Reinking is armed and extremely dangerous. We’ll get to why in a moment, but for now, no one’s quite sure where he’s going.

One possibility might be the White House, which brings us to how Reinking got his hands on the AR-15 that Shaw took away from him. It turns out that he had a confrontation with Secret Service at the White House last year and that his neighbors had called emergency services on him in the past for mental health issues prior to that.  The Secret Service took away his AR-15 and gave it to his father, who ended up giving it back to Travis:

Reinking’s brush with law enforcement in the nation’s capital was not his first. Documents obtained by CNN affiliate WBBM from the sheriff’s office in Tazewell County, Illinois suggest a troubling pattern involving guns and what one police report described as “delusional” behavior.

“Travis is hostile toward police and does not recognize police authority. Travis also possesses several firearms,” an officer said in a May 2016 incident report. At the time, Reinking’s parents had called emergency services to report their son believed pop star Taylor Swift was stalking him, and he had made comments about killing himself. …

At the time of the White House incident, Reinking lived in an apartment above his father’s business, a crane rental company in Tremont, Illinois, according to the sheriff’s office incident reports. After his arrest at the White House for trespassing and being in a restricted area, the FBI and the Secret Service coordinated with local law enforcement to investigate Reinking and remove firearms from his possession, Matthew Espenshade, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of FBI’s Nashville office said Sunday.

On August 24, the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office seized four firearms and ammunition from Reinking’s apartment along with his state firearm owners identification, according to an incident report. The seizure came less than two weeks after a Tazewell County sergeant said that Reinking drove up to his squad car and asked about filing a report.

This also brings us back to the specific reason police consider Reinking armed and extremely dangerous. Local police had removed four firearms from Reinking’s possession, but they only know of two at the moment — the AR-15 Shaw took from him and a weapon police found in Reinking’s apartment. They believe he still has the other two, thanks to his father, who had given him back all of the firearms.

Another potential target is Taylor Swift:

On May 27, 2016, a Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputy met him and his parents in a drug store parking lot after his parents had called for help, according to an incident report.

A paramedic told the responding officer that Reinking was “delusional” and believed that Taylor Swift was harassing him by stalking and hacking his phone, the report states.

“Travis believed everyone including his own family and the police are involved,” the officer said in the report. “Travis stated he did not want to hurt Taylor Swift or anyone else, he only wanted the harassment to stop.”

Undoubtedly, the singer’s security team is almost certainly beefing up their presence until Reinking is found. It’s unfortunate and it’s infuriating, because this is someone who should have never been allowed access to firearms in the first place. It appears that law enforcement and his family had multiple opportunities to prevent him from accessing weapons and each contributed to an ultimate failure to do so. That left the victims at Waffle House with little recourse, and required James Shaw Jr. to put his life on the line to save others. Had existing laws been enforced and had his family kept the firearms locked away, it never would have been necessary.