By CHRISTOPHER MELE
A gunman wearing only a jacket and carrying an assault-style rifle opened fire at a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee, early Sunday, killing four people and leaving the police searching for him and a motive, officials said.
The police said murder warrants were being drafted for the suspect, Travis Reinking, 29, of Morton, Illinois, who remained at large.
Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, said at a news conference that Reinking pulled into the parking lot of a Waffle House in the Antioch neighborhood of Nashville around 3:19 a.m. in a pickup truck.
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 another person.
A customer who heard the shots ran in the direction of the restrooms and watched the gunman. When the customer 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, Aaron said.
“You had a citizen step up to intervene with an active shooter and that’s what this man did,” he said. “He is the hero here and no doubt he saved many lives.”
The mayor’s office identified the customer who intervened as James Shaw Jr. In an interview with The Tennessean, Shaw said he saw an opportunity to rush the gunman. He said he was unsure if the man was reloading or his weapon had jammed.
“It really wasn’t a process of thinking,” he said. “It was more so of a now, you have to do this now or if I let him load that weapon, there wasn’t going to be another window, there wasn’t going to be another chance.”
The gunman, who was naked but for a green jacket, then fled and shed the jacket as he reached a corner not far from the Waffle House. Aaron said the jacket had an unspecified amount of additional ammunition.
Federal and other law enforcement agencies were aware of Reinking “due to previous interactions,” Aaron said, but he did not elaborate.
Court records in Illinois show a series of traffic violations dating to 2005 to which Reinking mostly pleaded guilty and paid a fine.
Aaron said it was unclear what Reinking was doing in Nashville or what had motivated him.
Three people died at the scene and one person was declared dead at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the police said.
Jennifer Wetzel, a spokeswoman for the medical center, said one wounded victim was in critical condition and another was in critical but stable condition.
Two other victims were treated for minor injuries and discharged from TriStar Southern Hills Medical Center in Nashville, said Katie Radel, a spokeswoman there.
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.”
Waffle House said on Twitter: “This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family. We ask for everyone to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers.”
In a separate statement, the company said it had senior managers at the scene and a corporate team coming from its Atlanta offices.
The Waffle House in Antioch, like other locations in the chain, advertises itself as being open 24 hours.
Mayor David Briley of Nashville said on Twitter: “My heart goes out to the families & friends of every person who was killed or wounded in this morning’s shooting. I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devastating crime.”