Waffle House shooter believed God commanded him

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Lawyers for a man who killed four people in a shooting at a Nashville Waffle House said Monday that Travis Reinking believed the restaurant patrons and employees were government agents he had been instructed by God to kill.

Reinking, 32, was naked except for a green jacket when he opened fire in the restaurant on April 22, 2018. He fled, knocking out a two-day manhunt, after restaurant owner James Shaw Jr. Wrestled his attack-style rifle away from him.

Shaw testified Monday that he noticed Reinking sitting in a truck before entering the restaurant, and his friend joked that Reinking looked crazy and would “shoot the place.”

“His energy was not right. I could just feel it,” Shaw testified. Reinking shot two people outside before entering the restaurant and continuing to shoot. When he stopped to reload, Shaw hurried him, grabbing the barrel of the gun. It burned his hand, but he held on until he had the weapon in his possession and threw it over the counter.

Asked if he could identify the shooter in court, Shaw looked at Reinking and said, “He gives me the same look he did that night. He looked like he didn’t care.”

In opening statements, attorney Luke Evans said Reinking suffers from severe schizophrenia that had worsened over a period of years.

“Mr. Reinking was driven by delusions, paranoid thinking and auditory illusions,” he said. That included the belief that he was Taylor Swift’s friend and that the star had stalked him, broken into his house and sexually assaulted him.

He had been moved several times to try to leave the prosecution behind, Evans said. By the time he moved to Nashville a few months before the shooting, he was “completely detached from reality.”

“He believed he was communicating directly with God,” Evans said of Reinking. “He believed that ordinary people who ran out to hurt him and hurt him. Mr. Reinking believed that he was commanded by God to go to the Waffle House to defend himself and other people. The people at Waffle House were, in his mind, government agents. ”

Reinking is accused of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Taurean C. Sanderlin, 29; Joe R. Perez, 20; Akilah Dasilva, 23; and DeEbony Groves, 21. He also faces several counts of attempted first-degree murder.

Reinking pleaded not guilty Monday to stupidity. This means that he must not only prove that he was suffering from a serious mental illness, but also that the mental illness was unable him to appreciate the injustice of his actions.

In opening statements, Assistant District Attorney General Jan Norman tried to show that Reinking made conscious choices. Norman pointed out that Reinking bought extra magazines in the days before the shooting and chose to take his most powerful weapon. He also went to the Waffle House at 3.20 on a Sunday, when it was especially busy.

Norman said that when Reinking was imprisoned in a forest area, he could understand and obey police commands.

“The evidence in this case is that Travis Reinking made a choice,” Norman said. “He made several choices that led to the shooting.”

Several of the police officers who responded at the scene of the crime testified Monday about what they saw. Metropolitan Nashville Police Officer Brett Johns was the first person on the scene after the shooting. He was visibly overwhelmed, voice cracking and wiping tears when he spoke of the dead and wounded people he encountered, and said that even almost four years later, “I think about it a lot.”

Johns described seeing Perez and Sanderlin dead outside the building. Inside, he saw Groves and her sorority sister, Sharita Henderson, under a box by the door. He thought they were both dead, until he heard Henderson make a noise and saw her blink. She could not speak, but he asked her to blink again if she understood him. She blinked.

On the other side of the restaurant, Shantia Wagoner’s leg was almost cut off below the knee, held together “by very small amounts of skin and perhaps some muscle,” Johns said. Her friend, Dasilva, kept repeating that he was in pain; his arm hurt. Also in the Waffle House was Dasilva’s brother Abede Dasilva, who testified Monday that he was hidden in a bathroom during the shooting.

“I just lied to him and told him everything would be fine,” Abede Dasilva said through tears. He said he thought his brother had only been shot in the arm, but it turned out that a bullet had pierced his lung.

The last thing his brother said to him was, “I can not breathe,” he testified.


This story has been corrected to show that the shooting was on a Sunday.

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