NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Authorities say a nearly naked gunman from Morton, 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, though Reinking may have "mental issues." He may still be armed, Anderson told a mid-afternoon news conference, because he was known to have owned a handgun that authorities have not recovered.
A review of Peoria area court records shows only traffic violations for Reinking in the area, beginning in 2005 and ending in 2013. Journal Star archives show a man with that name sold a home on Circle Drive in Morton in 2014.
Friends and family who were at the Reinking family's home in rural Morton declined to comment Sunday. Neighbors, however, were shocked at the allegations and said something must have "happened" to Travis Reinking, whom they remembered as a hard-working man.
Roland McDuff, who lives across the street from Reinking's father's house, said he remembered the younger Reinking as a "hard worker" who came from a "good Christian home."
"That's a solid family," McDuff said, gesturing across the road toward the family's house. "They are good people. This just has to be devastating for them."
While he hasn't seen Travis Reinking for a number of years, he did say there was nothing in the young man's past that suggested this. McDuff, a retired carpenter, said he believed it was violent video games that might have played a role in changing him.
"He got into those dark games and that might have twisted his mind," he said.
Down the road a bit, Bill Keopnic said he planned on praying for the Reinkings, echoing McDuff's comments. Nothing, he said, could have caused him to expect this.
The Travis Reinking that Keopnic said he knew was a good mechanic and a kind person. He worked for his father's heavy crane company. Neither McDuff nor Keopnic said they had seen Travis for a few years and they didn't know when he moved out of the area.
U.S. Secret Service agents arrested Reinking last 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.
State police in Illinois, where Reinking reportedly lived until last fall, subsequently revoked his state firearms card at the request of the FBI and four guns were then taken from him, including the AR-15 used in Sunday's shooting as well as a handgun, authorities said.
Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Huston 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 past deputies' encounters with Reinking, "there's certainly evidence that there's some sort of mental health issues involved."
Meanwhile, authorities hailed the customer who intervened to stop a further bloodbath, 29-year-old James Shaw Jr., as a hero — though the father of a 4-year-old girl demurred and said he was just trying to survive.
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 he realized what was happening, he took cover behind a door as shots shattered windows. The gun either jammed or needed a new clip, and that's when Shaw said he pounced after making up his mind that "he was going to have to work to kill me."
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."
They 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 of the working- and middle-class Antioch neighborhood of southeast Nashville.
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.
Another witness, Chuck Cordero, told The Tennessean newspaper he had stopped to get a cup of coffee and was outside the Waffle House when the chaos unfolded.
"He did not say anything," Cordero said of the gunman, who he described as "all business."
Cordero said Shaw saved lives. "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 spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel said one was in critical condition and the other was in critical but stable condition.
TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center spokeswoman Katie Radel in Nashville said two people were treated for minor injuries and released.
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.
"This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family," the company said in a statement on Twitter. "We ask for everyone to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers."
According to CBS News and The Associated Press, police say the gunman opened fire just before 3:30 am at the restaurant on Murfreesboro Pike in Antioch, a suburb roughly 20 minutes from downtown Nashville. A customer at the restaurant took the gun from the suspect, who then took off his coat and fled the area, according to police.
Authorities say a man believed to be Reinking was last seen in a wood line near an apartment complex close to the Waffle House.
Hours after the shooting, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation added Reinking to its "Top 10 Most Wanted" list," offing a reward of $2,500 for information leading to his arrest. The TBI described Reinking as "a white man who stands 6’4” and weighs approximately 180 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes. ... Anyone with information about Reinking’s whereabouts may contact the TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND."
Nashville Mayor David Briley described the shooting as "a tragic day" for the city.
"My heart goes out to the families & friends of every person who was killed or wounded," Briley said in an emailed statement. "I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devastating crime."
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."
Nashville Chief Anderson 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.
Associated Press writers John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Ed White in Detroit; and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.