Waffle House murders suspect arrested after massive manhunt

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A mentally unstable gunman suspected of killing four people at a restaurant has been arrested not far from his apartment after hiding from police for more than a day following the attack, authorities said.

Authorities had mounted a massive manhunt for 29-year-old Travis Reinking after the Sunday morning attack in Nashville in which a gunman clad only in a jacket used an AR-15 rifle to kill four and injure others.

Metropolitan Nashville Police announced that he was taken into custody not far from his apartment.

A detective from the department’s specialised investigations division’s narcotics unit spotted Reinking in a wooded area near a construction site, Lieutenant Carlos Lara told news reporters.

He said construction workers told officers a person matching the suspect’s description walked through the area and into the woods. When confronted, the suspect lay down on the ground and officers cuffed him, Mr Lara said.

He said Reinking carried a black backpack that held a silver semi-automatic weapon and .45-calibre ammunition.

Police spokesman Don Aaron said Reinking requested a lawyer, was taken to hospital and would later be booked on four counts of criminal homicide.

Reinking was the subject of a huge manhunt
Reinking was the subject of a huge manhunt (Metro Nashville Police Department/AP)

Four people were killed and four injured before a quick-thinking customer wrestled the assault weapon away, preventing more bloodshed. Reinking then disappeared, police said.

Police said about 20 people were in the Waffle House at the time of the shootings. They included people of different races and ethnicities, but the four people killed were minorities – three black and one Hispanic.

It is not clear why Reinking opened fire on restaurant patrons, although he may have “mental issues”, Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said.

Damaged windows at the Waffle House restaurant
Damaged windows at the Waffle House restaurant (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Authorities in Illinois shared past reports suggesting multiple red flags about a disturbed young man with paranoid delusions.

In May 2016, Reinking told deputies from Tazewell County that music superstar Taylor Swift was stalking him and hacking his phone, and that his family was also involved, according to a report.

He agreed to go to a local hospital for an evaluation after repeatedly resisting the request, the sheriff’s report said.

Another sheriff’s report said Reinking barged into a community pool in Tremont, Illinois, last June, and jumped into the water wearing a pink woman’s coat over his underwear.

Investigators believed he had an AR-15 rifle in his car boot, but it was never displayed. No charges were filed.

Last July, Reinking was arrested by the Secret Service after he crossed into a restricted area near the White House and refused to leave, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump.

Reinking was not armed at the time, but at the FBI’s request, state police in Illinois revoked his state firearms card and seized four guns from him, authorities said.

The AR-15 used in the shootings was among the firearms seized.

Then, in August, Reinking told police he wanted to file a report about 20 to 30 people tapping into his computer and phone and people “barking like dogs” outside his residence, according to a report.

“There’s certainly evidence that there’s some sort of mental health issues involved,” Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Huston said.

He said officers returned the guns to Reinking’s father on the promise that he would “keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis”.

The father “has now acknowledged giving them back” to his son, Mr Aaron said.

Police say Reinking drove into the Waffle House car park early on Sunday and sat there for about four minutes before opening fire outside the restaurant.

The victims who were fatally shot outside the restaurant have been identified as Taurean Sanderlin, 29, of Goodlettsville, and Joe Perez, 20, of Nashville. Mr Sanderlin was an employee at the restaurant.

Mr Perez’s mother posted a picture of her son on Facebook and asked for prayers, saying it was the hardest day of her life. “Me, my husband and sons are broken right now with this loss,” Trisha Perez said. “Our lives are shattered.”

Reinking then went inside the restaurant and opened fire, police said.

One of the fatally wounded inside was DeEbony Groves, a 21-year student at Nashville’s Belmont University. She was remembered as an exceptional student and a tenacious basketball player.

Akilah Dasilva was also killed inside the restaurant. The 23-year-old from Antioch was a rap artist and music video producer who had such skills behind the camera that he was a favourite among many of Music City’s independent musicians and recording labels, The Tennessean reported.

One of the wounded was James Shaw Jr, a 29-year-old restaurant patron who burned his hand grabbing the hot muzzle of the assault weapon as he wrestled the gun away.

A Nashville native who works as a wireless technician for AT&T, Mr Shaw said he was no hero — despite being hailed as one by Nashville mayor David Briley.

Mr Shaw said he pounced on the suspect out of self-preservation after making up his mind that “he was going to have to work to kill me”.

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