Waffle House shooting suspect Travis Reinking arrested, refusing to answer questions, police say

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After a sprawling manhunt that swept across Nashville, police in the Tennessee capital on Monday arrested Travis Reinking, the 29-year-old accused of killing four people in a shooting rampage at a Waffle House over the weekend.

The announcement came nearly 34 hours after the eruption of violence in the Waffle House, the latest public place suddenly consumed by blood and terror after a volley of gunfire. A little more than an hour before taking him into custody, police had acknowledged having “no confirmed sightings” of him and saying they were not even sure if he remained in the area.

That changed suddenly when police received a tip that someone matching Reinking’s description was seen heading into a wooded area about a mile from the Waffle House. Detectives marched into the wooden area and found Reinking, who was taken into custody without any incident, they said. When he was captured, police said Reinking was wearing a backpack that held a semiautomatic firearm as well ammunition.

Even with the suspected shooter alive and in police custody, what could have motivated the massacre remained frustratingly unknown, authorities said. Reinking requested a lawyer after his arrest and refused to answer questions or make a statement, Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, said at a news briefing.

While Reinking was at large, police had warned he was dangerous and said he showed “signs of significant instability,” Aaron had said at a news briefing earlier Monday.

He pointed to Reinking’s arrest outside the White House last year as well as a string of bizarre encounters with law enforcement officials in Illinois, where he had previously lived. Reinking once told law enforcement officers that the singer Taylor Swift had been harassing and stalking him — a delusion that authorities in Illinois said Reinking had had for years.

Last year, police records show that Reinking went to a local pool in Illinois wearing a pink dress and swam in his underwear while coaxing life guards to fight him. Soon after, he traveled to the nation’s capital and tried to cross a security barrier near the White House, declaring himself a “sovereign citizen” who wanted to speak with President Trump.

After an investigation by the FBI office in Springfield, Ill., state and local officials confiscated Reinking’s guns and revoked his firearm license in August. The weapons were given to Reinking’s father, who agreed to keep them secure and away from Reinking, officials said. But the father later acknowledged giving the weapons back to his son, police said, who had moved to Tennessee.

Under Illinois law, certain confiscated guns can be released to a family member, but Reinking could not lawfully possess the weapons in that state. Matthew E. Espenshade, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Memphis division, on Monday said that “every federal resource was brought to bear” in Reinking’s case after his arrest at the White House and the FBI assessment.

“We were able to effectively neutralize what we felt was the threat at the time by ensuring that he did not have the ability to purchase or own weapons and that those weapons were taken,” Espenshade said Monday. He added: “He was not able to possess or own those weapons.”

The Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois on Monday said it was asked by the state police to take away Reinking’s Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card, which he needed to legally possess guns or ammunition in the state. The sheriff’s office said it never took possession of Reinking’s guns, which were instead transferred to his father, Jeffrey. When a person’s FOID card is revoked, they have hand it over to authorities and fill out paperwork confirming that their guns have been transferred to someone who has a valid card, the sheriff’s office said. Reinking signed his four guns over to his father on Aug. 24, 2017, according to a state police record released by the sheriff’s office.

Reinking’s father could potentially face charges for returning the guns, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. His father and other relatives could not immediately be reached, and a woman who answered the phone at a number registered to Reinking’s relatives in Illinois said, “We have no comment.”

More recently, police said, Reinking narrowly avoided encountering law enforcement officials after stealing a BMW from a dealership in suburban Nashville just four days before the Waffle House shooting. He eluded police officers who later recovered the vehicle at his apartment complex.

Reinking went to a Brentwood, Tenn., BMW dealership, asked about purchasing a car, took a keyfob and drove away, authorities said. Police in Brentwood followed him but gave up on the search, because it was rush hour and the car could be tracked through its GPS, according to Aaron; they later used that system to find the car at his apartment complex.

“They had no idea who the man was,” Aaron said, noting that Reinking refused to give identification to the dealership, so they did not have his name. After the shooting, a keyfob for the BMW was found in Reinking’s apartment, he said. Police in Brentwood said charges are pending in the case.

Police reports dating back to May 2016 offer a glimpse of other encounters authorities had with Reinking — and they reveal that despite his history, Reinking had remained in possession of several firearms. Early Sunday, police say the 29-year-old man from Morton, Ill., used a previously confiscated semiautomatic AR-15  rifle in the shooting rampage in Nashville.

Three people died in the restaurant, while a fourth died later at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Two others injured in the shooting rampage remained in stable condition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Monday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

As the police search for Reinking expanded across Nashville, with some 160 law enforcement officials scouring the area, local schools were placed in “lockout” mode. Students were allowed to freely move inside school buildings, but no visitors are allowed inside, the Metro Nashville Public School system said.

Before his arrest, police had said Reinking was last seen Sunday morning in a wooded area behind his apartment, where he had been living for several months. Aaron said Monday that one of the four guns seized by Illinois authorities after Reinking’s arrest last year — a pistol — had been unaccounted for during the manhunt.

Late Sunday, a resident of a nearby county contacted police to say he had found an empty laptop bag containing a handwritten ID card with Reinking’s name, Aaron said. This suggests that the 29-year-old was in that area the same night the shooting occurred, but it remains unclear if the bag was dropped before or after the gunfire, police said.

Authorities say Reinking, wearing nothing but a green jacket, opened fire at the Waffle House restaurant in Antioch, a neighborhood southeast of downtown Nashville, just before 3:30 a.m. Sunday. He had been sitting in his pickup truck at the Waffle House for a few minutes, looking around, before he got out and immediately began shooting at customers in the parking lot, Aaron, the police spokesman, said.

The man kept shooting as he walked inside, shattering the restaurant’s glass windows. At one point, he stopped, presumably to reload. That’s when police say a customer, James Shaw Jr., lunged at the gunman, wrestled the weapon away from him and tossed it over the counter.

Among the victims was 29-year-old Taurean C. Sanderlin of Goodlettsville, Tenn., a restaurant employee who was fatally shot while standing outside. The others killed were customers: Joe R. Perez, 20, of Nashville; Deebony Groves, 21, of Gallatin, Tenn.; and Akilah Dasilva, 23, of Antioch.

Two others — Shanita Waggoner, 21, of Nashville, and Sharita Henderson, 24, of Antioch — were hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, police said. They were in stable condition Monday, hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel said.

It was not immediately clear how or why Reinking obtained a Firearm Owner’s Identification Card in Illinois, or whether he had been diagnosed with any mental illness before he moved to Tennessee. Illinois state law prohibits someone who’s been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or has been a patient at a mental institution from obtaining a firearm license.

 1:50
Waffle House customer describes wrestling away weapon from gunman

James Shaw Jr. described how he disarmed a gunman who opened fire at a Waffle House near Nashville April 22 and killed four people. 

But documents released by the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois paint a picture of what they described as a troubled — and armed — man who had talked about killing himself.

Late at night on May 26, 2016, an emergency response officer found Reinking at a CVS parking lot in Morton, where his family lives. Reinking believed that pop star Taylor Swift had been hacking his phone and that his family was involved in the harassment.

According to a police report, he told a bizarre story about a Dairy Queen meetup with Swift that ended with Reinking looking for the singer on the restaurant’s rooftop. The police report says Reinking was eventually taken to a hospital to be evaluated.

On June 16, 2017, officials say Reinking — who was living inside a shop above the offices of his father’s construction business in Tremont, Ill. — screamed at two employees before driving away wearing a pink dress and carrying an AR-15 rifle. He showed up minutes later at a local pool, jumped into the water wearing only his underwear and exposed himself to the lifeguards, a police report says.

Reinking’s father and sister both told officials that they would try to keep the weapons away from Reinking until he got psychological help, the report says.

A month later, he was arrested in Washington for trying to cross a security barrier near the White House.

Reinking told authorities he had to get to the building to speak with the president, and that “he was a sovereign citizen and has a right to inspect the grounds,” according to a D.C. police report. Sovereign citizens are viewed by the FBI as anti-government extremists who believe they are not subject to governmental laws, and law enforcement officials have described them as a major concern.

An officer told Reinking to move because he was blocking a pedestrian entrance at the White House, but Reinking “began to take his tie off and balled it into a fist” while walking past the security barriers and toward an officer, the police report says.

“Do what you need to do,” Reinking said, according to the report. “Arrest me if you have to.”

Reinking was charged with unlawful entry, a misdemeanor, officials said. He later entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office.

He was ordered to perform 32 hours of community service at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Morton and to stay away from the White House for four months. He mowed grass, ran a forklift to move pallets of food, and packaged food for distribution to local food banks as well as hygiene packets for hurricane disaster relief. A letter signed by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Steven. E. Hauter, says Reinking completed 33.5 hours of community service.

A woman who answered the phone at the church Monday said Hauter was “not available, and we have no comments.”

Prosecutors dismissed the case against Reinking in November after he completed the terms of the agreement.

Police said Reinking moved to the Nashville area sometime last fall and worked in the construction industry. Aaron, the police spokesman, said he was fired from a job about three weeks ago and was later hired by another employer. Reinking had not been to work since Monday.

The Waffle House shooting rattled the working-class neighborhood in Antioch, where a masked gunman opened fire at a church last year, killing a woman and wounding several other people. Emanuel K. Samson, 26, was arrested in that shooting.

It also comes at a time of intensified debate over guns and a swirling controversy about the AR-15, a type of weapon used in several mass shootings recently and dubbed “America’s rifle” by the National Rifle Association.

Beer delivery driver Ethan Loxley said that attitude has become commonplace along his Antioch delivery route — a departure from the “nice, laid-back” community he knew before the separate shootings rocked two mainstays of local culture: middle-of-the-night dining at Waffle House and Sunday morning worship at a church.

Brandon Gee from Antioch and Devlin Barrett, Keith L. Alexander, Alice Crites and Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

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