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Police In Tenn. Search For Gunman Who Killed 4 At Waffle House

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Police are still searching for the gunman who shot several people at a Waffle House in Nashville. He killed four people and wounded two others. Today, though, we focus on a 29-year-old man who wrestled away the rifle and kept a mass shooting from becoming worse. Here's Blake Farmer of our member station WPLN.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: James Shaw was discharged from the hospital Sunday morning, freshly bandaged up from a bullet grazing his elbow and a burned hand from grabbing the smoking-hot barrel of an AR-15. And where did he go?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AARON MARBLE: And he didn't skip church to be laid up.

UNIDENTIFIED CHURCHGOERS: Yeah.

MARBLE: But he said, I went through this experience. I got to come to church to give God prayers.

UNIDENTIFIED CHURCHGOERS: Yeah.

FARMER: At Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist, the reverend Aaron Marble prayed over Shaw and his family. Hours later, Shaw, still dressed in a slim-fitting khaki suit, turtleneck and tasseled loafers, spoke at a police news conference.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAMES SHAW JR: If you would ask me, I'm actually not a greatly religious person. But I know that in a tenth of a second, something was with me to run through that door and get the gun from him.

FARMER: Police say the suspect, Travis Reinking, had been sitting in the parking lot of a Waffle House in the suburban community of Antioch. Shaw recalls seeing the pickup truck as he and a friend, out for a night with his old fraternity buddies, walked in - then, gunfire, which at first Shaw thought could be plates crashing on the tile floor. Reinking is accused of shooting an employee and a customer in the parking lot. Then he came inside and fatally wounded two more, including a college senior. Shaw took cover near the restrooms.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAW JR: At the time that he was either reloading, or the gun jammed or whatever happened is when I ran through the swivel door. I hit him with the swivel door.

FARMER: Shaw wrestled away the AR-15 and flung it over the counter, then dragged the suspect out of the restaurant, where he fled on foot, shedding the only thing he was wearing, a jacket with two extra rifle magazines in the pockets.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAW JR: So I'm not a hero. I'm just a regular person. And I think anybody could have did what I did. You have to either react, or you're going to, you know, fold. And I chose to react.

FARMER: Shaw says it was really a selfish act that happened to save more than a dozen lives. But the CEO of Waffle House, Walt Ehmer, tried to tell him otherwise.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALT EHMER: I talked to some of those people you saved today. And they will think of you for the rest of their days, as will I. And we are forever in your debt.

FARMER: While the focus has been on Shaw's heroics, law enforcement has been trying to explain why Reinking had a gun in the first place. He was arrested by the Secret Service last year after he entered a restricted area of the White House. He wanted to meet President Trump. The FBI recommended that Reinking's firearms license be revoked in Illinois, where he's from. State authorities there did confiscate four weapons and gave them to his father, who later returned them to his son. The FBI appeared at the same press conference as Shaw, who had to look down the barrel of one of those guns, and said the bureau couldn't have done much more. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF LYMBYC SYSTYM'S "FALL BICYCLE (THE ALBUM LEAF REMIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.