But police are hailing James Shaw Jr. as a hero who saved lives when he wrestled an AR-15 rifle rifle away from the shooter, who killed four people when he opened fire inside the restaurant in Antioch, Tennessee. A manhunt was still underway Monday afternoon for shooting suspect Travis Reinking.
Shaw Jr., a 29-year-old Nashville native, is a technician for AT&T and a father to a 4-year-old daughter. He attended Tennessee State University and Brightwood College. At a press conference on Sunday, he described himself as a “pretty cool guy to be around,” while pushing back against being labeled a hero.
“You have to either react or you’re going to, you know, fold. And I chose to react because I didn’t see any other way of me living, and that’s all I wanted to do. I just wanted to live,” Shaw Jr. said through tears at the press conference. “I didn’t really fight that man to save everybody else. I know that might not be a popular thing, but I’m really honest.”
Shaw Jr. said he had been out with his best friend at a club in the Antioch area early Sunday morning. They arrived at the Antioch Waffle House around 3:17 a.m. after trying to go to a different Waffle House location that was too crowded.
When the first shot rang out around 3:25 a.m., Shaw Jr. initially thought it was the sound of falling plates, until he turned to see shattered glass and a man wounded on the ground at the Waffle House entrance. When the gunman entered the restaurant, Shaw Jr. went behind a “swivel door,” which the gunman shot through, grazing his arm. “It was at that time I made up my mind — because there’s no way to lock the door — that if it was going to come down to it, he was going to have to work to kill me,” Shaw Jr. said at Sunday’s press conference.
When he heard the gunman pause to reload the rifle or fix a jam, Shaw Jr. — who has had no combat training — ran through the door, striking the gunman. He proceeded to wrestle the gun away, toss it over the counter and force the man out of the restaurant. His hands were severely burned from grabbing the gun’s barrel.
Law enforcement officers and city officials have praised Shaw Jr. for Family members and friends have described Shaw Jr. as a “selfless guy” and a loving father. His 4-year-old daughter, Brooklyn, is currently visiting family in Chicago, but she has been on Shaw Jr.’s mind in the aftermath of the shooting. “I thought I could have possibly never seen my daughter again. That hurt,” he told the Tennessean.
“I can’t wait to hug on her and love on her,” he said in an interview with local TV news station WSMV.
Shaw Jr. has created a GoFundMe page to help the families of the shooting victims. “Please take the time to donate as all of the proceeds will be given to the families,” he wrote. The page had raised more than $25,000 by noon on Monday.