NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The young woman, bandaged and shrouded in bedsheets, began to cry when James Shaw Jr. walked into Trauma Room No. 26 on Monday morning. Then, as the woman’s father drew near, one of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s surgeons spoke up: “Have you met James? James saved a lot of lives.”
The men embraced, crying, the woman’s father clapping James Shaw Jr. on the back.
“Thank you,” the older man whispered to Shaw, who a day earlier wrested an assault rifle from a man who opened fire at a Waffle House restaurant just southeast of downtown Nashville. The rampage left four people dead.
The police, as well as other customers in the Waffle House, quickly praised Shaw as a hero for preventing even more bloodshed.
“I’m not a hero. I’m just a regular person,” Shaw said a few hours after the shooting, a sentiment he repeated in talk show appearances Monday morning.
Later Monday, he slipped into Vanderbilt’s trauma unit, visiting two women who survived the shooting. He spoke to them softly and stayed perhaps two or three minutes in each room, deflecting any talk of his bravery.
“How you doing, mom and dad?” he asked in one room before he talked about donating money raised through a GoFundMe page to the injured and the families of the dead.
“Hey girl,” he asked in the second. “How you doing?”
Through their quiet tears, it seemed, the patients could only whisper back. But for Shaw, 29, the most striking moment was his exchange with the young’s woman father.
“I’m a father, and we had a father moment when we saw each other,” Shaw said afterward in the lobby, where one woman approached him for a selfie. “If you can imagine, actually, your child being there and meeting the person who saved their child, it was very touching.”
He was encouraged by the progress of the patients.
“I’m glad that they’re still alive, but what I really want to see is when they’re back on their feet and their normal lives and everything,” he said.
On Monday, Shaw, who suffered a graze wound from a gunshot and a second-degree burn on his hand when he grabbed the barrel of the rifle, took his own incremental steps toward recovery. During his visit to Vanderbilt, a burn specialist treated the large blister that had formed beneath the gauze on his right hand.
Before Dr. Callie M. Thompson cleaned the wound, Shaw’s best friend, Brennan McMurry, who moved people to safety during the rampage, offered a quick admonition.
“You’re gonna have to man up right now,” McMurry told his friend since middle school. “It’s going to sting. I’m just letting you know.”
Shaw grimaced and then said, “I’ve done enough manning up.”
“You ain’t done yet,” McMurry replied.
Shaw and McMurry had just sat down in the restaurant early Sunday when a loud crashing sound rang out. At first, Shaw said Monday, he thought a dishwasher had knocked over some plates.
It quickly became clear what was happening. Bullets pierced the restaurant’s windows. A man collapsed onto the floor. Waiters ran.
Shaw and McMurry raced to the hallway outside the restrooms, taking cover behind a swinging door. As the gunman entered the Waffle House to continue shooting, Shaw recounted in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he looked for a moment to fight back.
“There is kind of no running from this,” Shaw said. He recalled thinking to himself, “I’m going to have to try to find some kind of flaw or a point in time where I could make it work for myself.”
During a sudden break in the firing, Shaw sprinted through the door as fast as he could, slamming into the gunman and knocking him to the ground. He grabbed the rifle and tossed it over the restaurant counter.
The gunman, Travis Reinking, 29, then ran away, authorities said, but not before he had killed four people and injured four others. Police identified the dead as a Waffle House employee, Taurean C. Sanderlin, 29, and three customers: Joe R. Perez, 20, of Nashville; DeEbony Groves, 21, of Gallatin; and Akilah Dasilva, 23, of Antioch.
Shaw, a Nashville native, said he and McMurry had gone to a club and left around 2:30 a.m. Sunday. They first went to a Waffle House restaurant near Antioch, a suburb, and, finding it too crowded, went to a different one nearby.
They sat down about three minutes before Reinking, who was naked except for a green jacket, walked up and fired his AR-15 rifle into the restaurant. The authorities were still looking for Reinking on Monday.
After Shaw wrested the weapon away, he said, the gunman left on foot at a jogging pace. Officials said the gunman shed his green jacket shortly thereafter. It was found with two loaded magazines in the pockets.
Shaw said Sunday that he eventually learned that the pause in the gunman’s firing came when he was trying to reload the rifle. It was a brief enough break, Shaw said, for him to make a move.