Months before the man suspected of killing four people at a Waffle House in Tennessee on Sunday became the target of a manhunt, authorities arrested him for trying to breach a barrier near the White House and later seized his guns.
Among the four weapons they took from Travis Reinking was an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that police say he used at the Waffle House on Sunday. Two of the other weapons – a long gun and a handgun – are missing from Reinking’s apartment, and as of Sunday evening, Reinking was still at large.
Reinking, 29, was trying to meet President Trump when he attempted to cross a security barrier at the White House complex in July, federal authorities said. After an investigation by the FBI office in Springfield, Ill. – near where Reinking lived at the time – state and local officials confiscated Reinking’s guns and revoked his firearm license.
The guns, however, were later returned to Reinking’s father, who has acknowledged that he gave them back to his son, officials said.
Under Illinois law, certain confiscated guns can be released to a family member, but Reinking could not lawfully possess the weapons in that state. It’s unclear whether possessing the weapons was illegal in Tennessee.
A woman who answered at a number registered to Reinking’s relatives in Morton, Ill., said, “We have no comment.”
Authorities say the gunman, wearing nothing but a green jacket, opened fire at the Waffle House restaurant in Antioch, Tennessee, a community in Nashville, just before 3:30 a.m. He had been sitting in his pickup truck at the Waffle House for a few minutes, looking around, before he got out and immediately began shooting at customers in the parking lot, police spokesman Don Aaron said.
The man kept shooting as he walked inside, shattering the restaurant’s glass windows. At one point, he stopped, presumably to reload. That’s when police say a customer, James Shaw Jr., lunged at the gunman, wrestled the weapon away from him and tossed it over the counter.
Among the victims was 29-year-old Taurean C. Sanderlin of Goodlettsville, Tennessee, a restaurant employee who was fatally shot while standing outside.
The others killed were customers: Joe R. Perez, 20, of Nashville; Deebony Groves, 21, of Gallatin, Tennessee; and Akilah Dasilva, 23, of Antioch.
Two others – Shanita Waggoner, 21, of Nashville, and Sharita Henderson, 24, of Antioch – remain in critical condition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, police said.
TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center treated and released two people with minor injuries from the shooting, hospital spokeswoman Katie Radel said.
Officials hailed Shaw’s actions, which they said probably saved many people’s lives. His elbow was grazed by a bullet during the shooting, and he was treated at a hospital.
“You’re a hero. You’re my hero. . . . We’re forever in your debt,” Walt Ehmer, Waffle House’s president and chief executive, told Shaw at a news conference Sunday afternoon.
Shaw said he doesn’t see himself as a hero.
“I want people to know that I did that completely out of a selfish act,” he said. “I was completely doing it just to save myself. . . . I did save other people, but I don’t want people to think that I was the Terminator or Superman or anybody like that.”
He said the rifle’s barrel was still hot when he grabbed the weapon away from the gunman.
“You have to reach or you’re going to fold. . . . That’s all I wanted to do, I just wanted to live,” a teary Shaw told reporters.
The gunman fled the scene, cursing, Shaw said. Police said he took off the only article of clothing he was wearing less than a block from the restaurant. Two magazines were found in the jacket’s pockets.
“He clearly came armed with a lot of firepower intended to devastate the south Nashville area,” Aaron said.
Investigators believe Reinking went to his apartment, located less than a mile from the Waffle House, and put on a pair of pants before fleeing again. He was last seen in a wooded area near the apartment complex wearing only black pants, Aaron said.
The shooting rattled the working-class neighborhood in Antioch, where a masked gunman opened fire at a church last year, killing a woman and wounding several other people. Emanuel K. Samson, 26, was arrested in that shooting.
It also comes at a time of intensified debate over guns and a swirling controversy about the AR-15, a type of weapon used in several mass shootings recently and dubbed “America’s rifle” by the National Rifle Association.
As the frantic search for Reinking continued Sunday, law enforcement and local leaders are, again, confronted with questions about gun control and people’s right to own guns.
“You balance the rights of people to have this privacy, but on the other hand, there needs to be a coordinated effort, especially in terms of mental health issues, to make sure that weapons don’t fall into their hands,” Metro Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson told reporters at a news conference Sunday, adding that police suspect mental issues may have played a role in the Waffle House shooting, although the motive remains unknown.
“He’s murdered four times with no apparent reason and no apparent motive,” Anderson said. “So we’re very concerned.”
Nashville Mayor David Briley, D, seized on the moment to renew calls for stricter gun laws.
“For a moment, let’s be honest about what happened. Last night, innocent Nashvillians were terrorized by a man with an AR-15. Let’s be honest. Some people see these weapons as having a purpose of terrorizing other people. It’s happening too much,” Briley said.
Police said Reinking, who previously lived in Morton, Illinois, moved to the area last fall and worked in the construction industry. Aaron said he was fired from a job about three weeks ago and was later hired by another employer. Reinking had not been to work since Monday, Aaron said.
Months earlier, he had been charged in the D.C. Superior Court with unlawful entry, a misdemeanor, according to officials. They said he did not make any threats, and there was not much evidence at the time that he posed a danger to the public.
On July 26, Reinking entered into a deferred-prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office. He was ordered to perform 32 hours of community service and to stay away from the White House for four months. The case against him was dismissed in November after Reinking met the conditions of the agreement.
By Sunday afternoon, the usually quiet and sleepy gated apartment community where Reinking lives was filled with nearly two dozen police cars, SWAT vans and other emergency vehicles.
Resident Dion Jones, who lives one building away from Reinking, said he never encountered him. He and his wife have lived at Discovery Mountain View apartments for nearly two years, he said.
“Everyone comes and goes at different times, and we just kind of keep to ourselves,” he said. “I specifically picked this apartment out of all the ones in Nashville because it was gated and seemed quiet.”
Jones, a regular at the nearby Waffle House, said he is worried for the employees whom he befriended on late-night trips there.
Other residents remain on edge.
“I just don’t even know what to say, because it’s like these shootings happen all the time,” said Alexis Reid, 34, who was shopping across the street from the Waffle House on Sunday afternoon. “But one in your area, at a restaurant you’ve ate at, is a different thing.”
Phillip Simmons, 46, who was visiting his son who lives in town, said he’s disturbed by the thought of a loose gunman wandering around.
“I’ve got kids in the area, and the thought that they could have been there, and the fact that the cops haven’t found this guy who is armed . . . I don’t even know how to deal with it,” he said. “What can I do? What can anyone do about this stuff?”
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Kristine Phillips