Nashville Waffle House shooting: Hunt continues for suspect who stole car and escaped police chase

Jeremy B White

The frenzied search for a man suspected of opening fire at a Tennessee restaurant continued into a second day as authorities said the suspect had previously stolen a car and avoided arrest.

Four people died after a gunman believed to be Travis Reinking strode into a Waffle House in the early hours of Sunday morning and opened fire. Authorities said he was wielding a previously confiscated AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and was naked when he fled.

Adding to a list of incidents that put Mr Reinking on law enforcement's radar, Nashville police said on Monday that the suspect had stolen a car from a BMW dealership last week. Police officers in the town of Brentwood began chasing him but “because of all of the vehicles on the road at that time and the fact that this vehicle had GPS capability and could be tracked, the pursuit was discontinued”, Nashville police department spokesman Don Aaron said.

When police recovered the car at Mr Reinking's apartment complex, Mr Aaron said, they did not make an arrest and “had no idea who the man was”. He said it was unclear what the motive for the theft may have been.

There had been no confirmed of sightings Mr Reinking since he was spotted on Sunday morning behind his apartment complex. Scores of police officers fanned out to hunt for him, joined by agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, clearing area schools.

But a citizen in another county reported finding a laptop case laying in the grass near a highway, Mr Aaron said, and discovering a handwritten identification card inside naming Mr Reinking. He said authorities believed Mr Reinking might be forced to emerge soon.

“If Reinking is still in the woods, he’s been there now for more than 24 hours and at some point he’s going to have to try to come out for food or water”, he said.

As the search unfolded, authorities in multiple jurisdictions released details depicting Mr Reinking, who is 29, as a young man who had repeatedly shown warning signs

He was arrested by the Secret Service last year near and charged with unlawful entry after crossing a security barrier guarding the White House. Secret Service agent Todd Hudson told reporters that Reinking had said he wanted to meet Donald Trump.

After that incident, Mr Reinking had his Illinois gun ownership rights revoked. Deputies with the Tazewell County, Illinois sheriff’ took away four guns - including the AR-15 he is believed to have wielded over the weekend - and turned them over to Mr Reinking’s father.

The father subsequently gave the weapons back to his son, a Nashville police spokesman said. Another of the four seized guns was found at Mr Reinking’s apartment after the shooting.

Even before stripping Mr Reinking of his firearms, the Tazewell sheriff’s office had had repeated contact with the young man. The department released a series of reports detailing interactions that Mr Huston described as offering evidence of a troubled mind.

“There’s certainly evidence that there’s some sort of mental health issues involved”, Mr Reinking said.

At one point, he told police officers that he believed pop star Taylor Swift was stalking him, according to a police report released by the sheriff’s department. His family conveyed that Mr Reinking had “made comments about killing himself” and “had access to many firearms”.

Greater bloodshed was likely averted when a Waffle House customer named James Shaw tackled the assailant as he reloaded, knocking away his weapon. Mr Shaw sustained only minor injuries.

“I kind of made up my mind…that if it came down to it, he was going to have to work to kill me”, Mr Shaw told reporters.

While Mr Shaw described his action as a mere act of self-preservation, he was widely lauded for his courage. Nashville police chief Steve Anderson called his act “beyond belief”, and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders praised Mr Shaw's “heroic actions”.

“Mr Shaw saved lives”, she said, adding that the White House was in touch with local and state law enforcement about the manhunt.