NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Employees at a Waffle House where four people were killed in a weekend shooting rampage wore orange ribbons, hugged each other and wept as the restaurant re-opened. And a steady stream of customers came in to the Nashville restaurant Wednesday to show support.
The parents of Joe Perez, a 20-year-old victim of the Sunday morning shooting, signed four white crosses outside, one of them bearing their son’s name and picture.
Company officials said they will donate a month of the restaurant’s sales to help the wounded survivors and the families of the slain.
Perez’s parents, who came from Texas to mourn him, said they did not want to speak. A woman who was working during the attack, her face still bearing scrapes, said she couldn’t speak. She knelt before the four white crosses erected to commemorate the victims.
The dead included Perez and Taurean Sanderlin, 29, who worked at the Waffle House. Sanderlin had been on a cigarette break in the parking lot when the killer stepped out of his truck brandishing an AR-15 rifle and opened fire. The gunman then stormed the restaurant.
Also killed were Akilah Dasilva, a 23-year-old student at Middle Tennessee State University who was well known to independent musicians and record labels in town, and DeEbony Groves, a 21-year-old student at Belmont University. Four people were also wounded.
Police credit James Shaw Jr., a customer who wrestled the weapon away from the gunman, for averting more bloodshed. The suspect fled after the scuffle with the customer and was captured the following day after a massive manhunt in Antioch, a neighborhood in southeastern Nashville. Police have identified him as Travis Reinking, 29.
Employees got emotional at times Wednesday, but they also thanked the customers for coming back to the restaurant.
“The Waffle House staff have been so wonderful, and I’m not sure I could hold up as well as they are in a situation like this,” said Ramona Witt, who lives in the neighborhood and came out to support the victims.
It was the employees who wanted to get the restaurant up and running again, Waffle House spokesman Pat Warner said.
“I think it’s part of the healing process for them,” Warner said.
Reinking was wearing nothing but a green jacket and brandishing the assault-style rifle when he attacked the restaurant, police say.
He faces multiple criminal charges, including four counts of criminal homicide. A public defender listed as his attorney has not responded to an email seeking comment.
Police say they still do not know of a motive for the crime.
The onetime crane operator bounced between states and suffered from delusions, sometimes talking about plans to marry singer Taylor Swift, friends and relatives told authorities.
He was detained by the Secret Service in July after he ventured in to a forbidden area on the White House grounds and demanded to meet President Donald Trump.
A friend and former co-worker in Colorado, John Turley, told The Associated Press he never saw any hints of violence or aggression from Reinking during the months they knew each other.
“I can’t tell you why he did what he did,” Turley said Wednesday. “The person I knew would not have done this.” Turley added, “He just seemed too passive a person.”
Turley said also Reinking never expressed any allegiance to anti-government beliefs, nor did he seem to be racist or advocate for white supremacy.
An audio recording released from a Nashville computer repair shop shows that the shooting suspect was fearful that the techs at the store had tampered with his laptop. This came after Reinking took the computer to the shop because he thought it had been hacked, Robert Hartline, owner of Dang It Repair, said. Reinking can be heard in the recording calling the tech a liar and telling him to kill himself. This was about a week and a half before the killings.
In the meantime, a steady stream of customers came to Waffle House, saying they wanted to help the victims.
One of them was Tammy Burnside, who got food to go for her and a friend.
“I just had to come by and pay my respect,” she said of the victims in a crime that has horrified so many people in the city. “When they died, it felt like something died in Nashville.”