NASHVILLE, Tenn. – After Travis Reinking allegedly stole a BMW from a Nashville area car dealer last week, police say they found it outside the apartment where he lived.
Authorities recovered the car but didn’t figure out who had stolen it until too late.
By then, police say, the 29-year-old with a troubled past had shot four people to death early Sunday in a Waffle House restaurant not far from where he lived in Nashville. If not for the efforts of a patron who wrestled the gun away, many more would have died.
Reinking escaped on foot, shedding the only item of clothing he was wearing, a green jacket. He was found and taken into custody in some woods near the apartments Monday, more than 24 hours later. By then police had searched his apartment, where they say they found the key fob to the stolen BMW.
His arrest ended a manhunt that involved more than 160 law enforcement officers. But it left troubling unanswered questions about his behavior before the shooting — and what could have led to the carnage he is said to have unleashed at the Waffle House.
Construction workers told officers Monday that a person matching Reinking’s description walked into the woods near a construction site, Metro Nashville Police Department Lt. Carlos Lara told reporters. A detective spotted Reinking, who lay down on the ground to be handcuffed when confronted, Lara said. Reinking carried a black backpack with a silver semi-automatic weapon and .45-caliber ammunition.
Police spokesman Don Aaron said Reinking requested a lawyer and was taken to a hospital before being booked on four counts of criminal homicide.
Police said Reinking opened fire in the restaurant parking lot before storming the inside, which contained about 20 people. Four people — three black and one Hispanic — were killed and four others injured before a customer wrestled the weapon away and Reinking, who is white, ran out, police said.
Reinking had not yet been connected to the stolen BMW. But authorities in Illinois and Colorado shared past reports suggesting multiple red flags about a disturbed man with paranoid delusions.
In May 2016, Reinking told deputies from Tazewell County, Illinois, that music superstar Taylor Swift was stalking him and hacking his phone.
Reinking agreed to go to a local hospital for an evaluation after repeatedly resisting the request, the sheriff’s report said.
He would make a similar claim about Swift in Salida, Colorado, nearly a year later, in March 2017, authorities there said.
Another Illinois sheriff’s report said Reinking barged into a community pool in Tremont 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 trunk, but it was never displayed. No charges were filed.
Last July, Reinking was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service after he entered a restricted area near the White House and refused to leave, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump. Reinking was not armed, but at the FBI’s request, Illinois police revoked his state firearms card and seized four guns from him, authorities said.
The AR-15 used in the shootings was among those seized.
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. But he said deputies returned the guns to Reinking’s father on the promise he would “keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis.”
Reinking’s father “has now acknowledged giving them back” to his son, Aaron said.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special Agent Marcus Watson said Monday that his father’s action is “potentially a violation of federal law.”
Phone calls to a number listed for the father, Jeffrey Reinking, went unanswered.
It is not clear why Reinking moved recently from Morton, Illinois, and if it had anything to do with being near Swift. She has a home in Nashville, though it is not her only residence. Police say he worked in construction for a while.
Reinking drove to the Waffle House parking lot early Sunday and sat there for about four minutes before opening fire, police say.
The victims fatally shot in the parking lot have been identified as Taurean Sanderlin, 29, of Goodlettsville, and Joe Perez, 20, of Nashville. Sanderlin was an employee at the restaurant.
DeEbony Groves, 21, a student at Nashville’s Belmont University; and Akilah Dasilva, 23, a rap artist and music video producer, were killed inside the restaurant.
Restaurant customer James Shaw Jr., 29, burned his hand grabbing the hot muzzle of the assault weapon as he wrestled the gun away from Reinking. A Nashville native who works as a wireless technician for AT&T, Shaw called it “a selfish act,” but he was hailed as a hero by Nashville Mayor David Briley and others.
Associated Press writers John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Ed White in Detroit; and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report