NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A nearly naked gunman wearing only a green jacket and brandishing an assault rifle stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Nashville early Sunday, shooting four people to death before a customer rushed him and wrestled the weapon away.
Authorities were searching for the 29-year-old suspect, Travis Reinking, who they said drove to the busy restaurant and killed two people in the parking lot before entering and continuing to fire. When his AR-15 rifle either jammed or the clip was empty, the customer disarmed him in a scuffle.
Four people were also wounded before the gunman fled, throwing off his jacket.
Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said there was no clear motive. "We suspect some mental issues, but at this time there's no notes, no verbal explanations," he said. Reinking may still be armed, Anderson told a midafternoon news conference, because he was known to have owned a handgun that authorities have not recovered.
Police said late Sunday morning that authorities were preparing arrest warrants for Reinking on murder charges.
Don Aaron, a Nashville police spokesman, said at a news conference that Reinking pulled into the parking lot of a Waffle House in the Antioch neighborhood of Nashville at 3:19 a.m. in a pickup.
He sat in the vehicle for up to four minutes before getting out and using an "assault-type rifle" to fatally wound two people who were outside the restaurant, Aaron said.
The gunman went inside the restaurant and opened fire, killing one person there and fatally wounding another.
James Shaw Jr., 29, was in the restaurant when he heard the shots and hid behind a door. One hand bandaged, Shaw told reporters he first thought the gunshots fired around 3:25 a.m. were plates falling from a dishwashing station.
When Shaw heard the shooting stop and saw Reinking look down at his rifle, he rushed the gunman, wrestled the weapon away and threw it over the counter.
"I kind of made up my mind, because there was no way to lock that door, that if it was going to come down to it, he was going to have to work to kill me," Shaw said.
Shaw said he was not a religious man, but "for a tenth of a second, something was with me to run through that door and get the gun from him."
Shaw and the gunman cursed at each other as they scuffled, Shaw said, and he was able to grab the gun and toss it over a counter. The gunman then ran away into the dark.
Authorities said he shed his jacket nearby, and police found two AR-15 magazines loaded with bullets in the pockets. He was seen walking, naked, on a road, officials said, but later was spotted wearing pants but no shirt after apparently returning to his apartment.
Aaron said Reinking had been employed in construction and lived near the restaurant, and police used yellow crime scene tape to block public access to an apartment complex about a half-mile from the Waffle House. Reinking is originally from Morton, Ill.
The search continued Sunday afternoon, when members of a SWAT team surrounded the gated apartment complex. Resident Dion Jones said Reinking lives in one of the buildings but said he doesn't know him.
Another witness, Chuck Cordero, told The Tennessean newspaper that he had stopped to get a cup of coffee and was outside the Waffle House when the chaos unfolded.
"When I saw him get out of his pickup truck, all he had on was his jacket ... No sock, no shoes, no underwear. Just a jacket and an assault rifle," Cordero told Fox affiliate WZTV.
"He did not say anything," Cordero said of the gunman, who he described as "all business."
Cordero said Shaw saved lives. "Had that guy had a chance to reload his weapon, there was plenty more people in that restaurant," he said.
The dead were identified as 29-year-old restaurant worker Taurean C. Sanderlin and restaurant patrons Joe R. Perez, 20; Akilah Dasilva, 23; and Deebony Groves, 21. A police statement said Sanderlin and Perez were killed outside the restaurant, Groves was fatally shot inside, and Dasilva was critically wounded inside and later died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Aaron, the police spokesman, said two of the wounded were being treated for gunshot wounds at the medical center, where spokesman Jennifer Wetzel said one was in critical condition and the other was in critical but stable condition.
Katie Radel, a spokesman for TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center in Nashville, said two people were treated there for minor injuries and released.
Aaron said some of the injured were hurt by flying glass when the front window of the restaurant was blown apart in the shooting.
"The people inside the restaurant were very, very shaken," he said. "They were in tears."
The AR-15 used in the shooting and the handgun were among four firearms that authorities took from Reinking after U.S. Secret Service agents arrested him in July for being in a restricted area near the White House, officials said. Special Agent Todd Hudson said Reinking was detained after refusing to leave the restricted area, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump.
Reinking was charged with unlawful entry, which brought him to the attention of the FBI. Federal and county authorities interviewed him in Illinois, where he lived at the time, and his license to own firearms was revoked.
Sheriff Robert Huston in Tazewell County, Illinois, said deputies allowed Reinking's father to take possession of the guns on the promise that he would "keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis." Huston added that, based on deputies' encounters with Reinking, "there's certainly evidence that there's some sort of mental health issues involved."
While Huston said it was unclear how Reinking reclaimed the guns, Aaron said Reinking's father "has now acknowledged giving them back to his son."
Phone calls to a number listed for the father, Jeffrey Reinking, went unanswered. A relative of Reinking's said the family has no comment.
Anderson, the Nashville police chief, said there was no Tennessee law that would have barred Reinking from having guns, though weapons could be taken away if the suspect had serious mental health issues. That would require taking him to court and having his rights taken away because of illness, a sometimes lengthy and difficult process, Anderson said.
Police reports filed in Illinois showed past run-ins with authorities there.
In May 2016, Tazewell County deputies were called to a CVS parking lot where Reinking told officers that Taylor Swift was stalking him and hacking his phone, and that his family was also involved, according to a report released Sunday. Reinking agreed to go to a local hospital for an evaluation after repeatedly resisting the request, the report said.
Another report from the sheriff's office said Reinking barged into a community pool in Tremont, Ill., in June and jumped into the water wearing a woman's pink coat over his underwear. Investigators believed he had an AR-15 rifle in his car trunk, but it was never displayed. No charges were filed.
TRYING TO GET OUT
Walt Ehmer, the chief executive of Waffle House, said it was a "very sad day" and he thanked Shaw for his actions. "You are a hero," he said. "You're my hero."
But Shaw demurred. "I'm not a hero," he said, adding that he acted out of self-preservation. "I don't want this to be like the focal point of my life."
"I was just trying to get myself out," he told The Tennessean. "I saw an opportunity and pretty much took it."
Nashville Mayor David Briley described the shooting as "a tragic day" for the city.
"Clearly, the victims of this shooting deserve our prayers and our thoughts," he said. "But they also deserve leaders who will step up and take action and do something to get these weapons off our streets."
The shooting occurred about 2 miles from a church where a masked gunman killed one person and injured several others in September. The shooting at Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch left a 39-year-old woman dead.
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, whose district includes Nashville, said in an emailed statement that the shooting shows the need for tighter restrictions on "widespread civilian access to military-grade assault weapons."
Information for this article was contributed by Sheila Burke, John Raby, Ed White and Justin Pritchard of The Associated Press; by Christopher Mele and Jacey Fortin of The New York Times; and by Kristine Phillips, Sarah Grace Taylor, Herman Wong and Alex Horton of The Washington Post.
James Shaw wipes tears away during a news conference on the Waffle House shooting Sunday in Nashville, Tenn. Shaw wrestled the gun from the suspect.
A Section on 04/23/2018
Print Headline: Tennessee gunman kills 4 people at diner