A manhunt is underway for a naked gunman who opened fire at suburban Tennessee Waffle House early Sunday, killing four people before a patron wrestled the gun away from him, police said.
Travis Reinking stormed a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville with nothing but a green jacket on and an AR-15 rifle he used to kill the four victims before fleeing the scene, Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said at a press conference. Four others were wounded.
Diner James Shaw Jr., 29, noticed him entering the eatery and then wrestled the gun away from Reinking, tossing it over the counter.
“Thrown into crisis, he acted with courage,” Nashville Mayor David Briley. “He told me he saw an opportunity and he took it. He saved lives. That is certain and we are all thankful to him for his bravery.”
Authorities issued murder warrants for Reinking, of Illinois, who they believe fled on foot to his apartment nearby to put pants on and is possibly carrying two weapons.
“He clearly came armed with a lot of firepower intending to devastate the south Nashville area,” Aaron said.
The victims were identified as 29-year-old Taurean Sanderlin, a Waffle House employee, 20-year-old Joe Perez and 23-year-old Akilah Dasilva, both patrons and Deebony Groves, 21.
Reinking had previous run-ins with federal law enforcement and Illinois authorities.
The Secret Service arrested him last July for being in a restricted area near the White House. He was later released.
Illinois authorities and the FBI interviewed him and revoked his firearms authorization. Four weapons were seized, including the AR-15 rifle used in the Waffle House shooting, Aaron said.
Officials returned the weapons to Reinking’s father who then gave them back to his son, he continued, adding that two of the four guns are missing.
Chuck Cordero, 50, was heading to the restaurant to buy a cup of coffee Sunday morning when the chaos unfolded.
“He did not say anything,” Cordero told The Tennessean. “He pulled up, got out of his car and was all business.”
Reinking waited in the restaurant’s parking lot for about four minutes before shooting two people outside, police said. A pickup truck that pulled up at the restaurant was registered to Reinking, police said.
The naked shooter then used his assault rifle to pump bullet holes into the Waffle House window.
He then went inside where he started shooting at frightened patrons, police said, one of whom died at the scene and another at a local hospital.
Shaw Jr. charged at the gunman during a break from the shooting. He and a few friends had just arrived at the restaurant from a frat house party when the gunman came in.
“When he came in, I distinctively remember thinking that he is going to have to work for this kill,” Shaw Jr. told the Tennessean. “I had a chance to stop him and thankfully I stopped him.”
He was treated for an elbow injury and some abrasions, officials said.
“He really saved some people. I’m positive he did,” Cordero told the newspaper. “Had that guy had a chance to reload his weapon, there was plenty more people in that restaurant.”
Shaw told the Tennessean he didn’t think he should have the “hero” moniker police bestowed on him.
“While I was in hospital, a girl that was there said you saved my life,” he told the newspaper. “I didn’t do it to be a hero.”
The gunman fled the scene — tossing the jacket in the process — kicking off a lengthy search of the area.
Neighbors said they later saw a man who matched Reinking’s description running from his nearby apartment wearing a pair of black pants and headed for a wooded area.
Waffle House public relations director Pat Warner did not say whether any employees were among those hurt Sunday morning.
“This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family, and we ask for everyone to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers,” he said in an email to the Daily News.
Mayor Briley called it a “tragic day for our city anytime people lose their lives at the hands of a gunman.”
“My heart goes out to the families and friends of every person who was killed or wounded in this morning’s shooting,” he continued in a statement. “I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devastating crime.”