Four people were killed and four others injured when a man naked from the waist down and wielding an assault-style rifle opened fire at a Waffle House in Tennessee early Sunday, police said.
The suspected gunman was identified as Travis Reinking, 29, who police believe is from Morton, Illinois. The gunman ran from the scene after a patron at the restaurant wrestled the rifle away from him, police said. Police on Sunday morning were using dogs and a helicopter to search a wooded area near the restaurant where the gunman was last seen.
A witness of the shooting, Chuck Cordero, 50, told ABC News that he had just pulled up to the Waffle House in Antioch, a suburban area about 12 miles from downtown Nashville, when gunfire broke out.
“He was only wearing a jacket and nothing else on,” Cordero, a roadside-assistance worker, said of the gunman.
Police said two of the dead were shot outside the restaurant and one inside. A fourth person died at the hospital. Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville was also treating two other people who were shot in the incident that occurred around 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning.
The person who wrestled the rifle away from the shooter is a “hero,” police said.
Cordero used the same word.
“There’s a hero,” Cordero said. “I don’t know what his name is, but there’s a gentleman who was in there, who when this guy stopped to reload or stopped to do something with his gun, he took that opportunity and wrestled the guy till the gun went flying and then the dude took off running.”
“I talked to him afterward and told him, ‘You are a hero, man,’ because had that guy reloaded, there were plenty more people in that restaurant,” he said.
But the courageous patron, identified as James Shaw Jr., 29, refused to call himself a hero.
“I don’t really know, when everyone said that [of being a hero], it feels selfish,” Shaw told The Tennessean newspaper of Nashville. “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it.”
Shaw said that when the gunfire broke, a bullet grazed his elbow as he ducked for cover near the restaurant’s restroom. He said that when he saw the gunman look down at his weapon apparently to reload, he made his move.
“When he [the gunman] came in, I [distinctly] remember thinking that he is going to have to work for this kill,” Shaw said. “I had a chance to stop him and thankfully I stopped him. I grabbed the gun and kept it down. He had one hand on it. I pulled it away and threw it over the bar.”
Cordero said there were about 30 people in the restaurant at the time of the shooting.
He said the first victim, a man, was killed at the front door of the restaurant. He said the second victim was a friend, a cook at the Waffle House, who was outside on a cigarette break when he, too, was fatally shot while trying to run from the gunman.
“Once he started shooting inside I dropped to the ground and I started to crawl around my car because I didn’t know if he was going to come after me,” Cordero told ABC News. “So I was able to see his feet from underneath the car. Once he went inside I tried to run across the parking lot and I fell because my legs just … I was scared.”
Cordero said the shooter seemed to remain silent, saying nothing during the rampage.
Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, said the suspect arrived at the restaurant in a gold pickup truck and waited four minutes before getting out and unleashing a barrage of gunfire.
“He was wearing only a green jacket, no pants, no shirt,” Aaron said at a news conference outside the restaurant about 9 a.m.
He confirmed that a 29-year-old patron in the restaurant intervened to stop the shooting.
“He is the hero here and no doubt he saved many lives by wrestling away the gun and tossing it over the counter,” Aaron said. He said the courageous customer suffered an injured elbow and abrasions while battling the gunman. He was taken to TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center in Nashville for treatment.
Aaron said the gunman shed his jacket while wrestling with the patron and ran from the restaurant, leaving his truck parked outside. The truck was registered to Reinking, he said.
Police found several ammunition cartridges in the gunman’s jacket left at the scene, Aaron said.
Aaron said police believe Reinking ran to a nearby apartment complex where he lives, put on a pair of pants and ran into the nearby woods shirtless.
In addition to the six people shot, including the four who died, some other people were cut by flying glass when the gunman fired through the front window.
He said Reinking’s has an Illinois driver’s license and is known to law enforcement in Illinois. Reinking is believed to be from Morton, Illinois, but had been living in the Nashville area, Aaron said.
A motive for the shooting remains under investigation.
There were 35 officers from three precincts responding to the shooting, police said. The FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents were also assisting in the investigation.
Pat Warner, director of public relations and external affairs for Waffle House, called it a “very troubling” situation.
“We are sending our corporate team from Atlanta and heading to Nashville now,” Warner said. “Our thoughts are with those affected.”
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident,” Waffle House said later in a statement. “Right now, our first thoughts are with the victims and their families, and we will be there for them in this most difficult time. We are still gathering the details, and so we do not have much information to share … This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family.”
Nashville Mayor David Briley released a statement on Twitter, saying, “It’s a tragic day for our city anytime people lose their lives at the hands of a gunman. My heart goes out to the families & friends of every person who was killed or wounded in this morning’s shooting. I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devasting crime.”
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