NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — On April 22, 2018, just before 3:30 a.m., a gunman entered a South Nashville Waffle House. He was nude, except for a green trench coat. In his hands was a Bushmaster AR-15. Thirteen people were at the restaurant. In less than 45 seconds, four people were fatally wounded, two were severely injured and seven others were deeply traumatized.
Others would have likely died or been hurt had it not been for a North Nashville man. James Shaw Jr, who was 29 at the time, stopped the gunman. Less than six hours later, he and his best friend went to church.
Shaw and Brennan McMurry had gone to the restaurant in search of a late-night meal. It ended up being a decision that changed the course of their lives.
News 2 sat down with the friends at the church where they worshipped that morning.
“We actually went to Taco Bell first,” Shaw said.
“Yeah! See, no one knows that really,” said McMurry.
“It’s the first time we actually ever told anybody. We went to Taco Bell first because of the hour we were out but it was closed. Then we went to the Waffle House off Bell Road, but it had too many people in it. We walked around, it had some ruckus going on, not like the ruckus we eventually ensued to go into, but finally, we went to the Waffle House where the shooting took place off of Murfreesboro Pike.”
Shaw and McMurry have been best friends since high school. The Saturday night before the shooting, they went to a party together.
After the party, they went to Taco Bell, which was closed, then they went to the Waffle House on Bell Road near I-24.
“Something told us to leave that one,” McMurry said. “It was actually seats that we were about to sit down into in Waffle House. At the first one.”
“We should’ve stayed there,” said Shaw.
The friends finally end up at another Waffle House about 15 miles south of Downtown Nashville. The restaurant was new and had only opened a few months prior. It was a decision that would seal their fate.
“God put us there for a reason. He had to have ‘cause it just makes no sense,” said McMurry.
At 3:19 a.m., the Metro Nashville Police Department says Travis Reinking parked his pick-up truck outside of the Waffle House. He sat in his vehicle for about three or four minutes.
“We saw him in the truck walking in. I think every day why he didn’t shoot us then,” said McMurry.
Metro Police say Reinking then got out and began shooting. McMurry and Shaw were inside the restaurant and ran for cover. McMurry and two other people locked themselves in a bathroom. Shaw was watching the shooter from behind a door.
McMurry didn’t know it then but he was inside the bathroom with Abede Dasilva. Dasilva was at the restaurant with his brother Akilah, who later died from a gunshot wound to his shoulder.
“I just ran to wherever I could seek cover,” Dasilva told News 2. “I got in the bathroom and the first thing I thought of was, damn I ran in the bathroom, I gotta go get my brother. But as soon as I was about to run out the bathroom is when there was more shots.”
“Literally DOOM, DOOM, DOOM, DOOM,” said McMurry. “Listen, I’ve been to a gun range before but I’ve never experienced wall shaking and this is real action going on.”
“So, all we did was back up into the bathroom because Brennan is like ‘don’t go out there’ and I’m just like alright and I’m just scared and I’m just embracing whatever’s about to happen.”
“Abede is like ‘listen, my brother’ and I’m like ‘listen my best friend’s in the bathroom outside and I don’t know where he is.’ I said ‘but if we open this door, he’s right there.'”
“Then he sat on the toilet and it was an automatic toilet and the toilet flushed,” said Dasilva.
“We’re trying to stay incognito and then the toilet flushes. So, anybody who’s logical is gonna be like ‘well somebody’s in the bathroom,'” said McMurry.
“So, at that moment I’m just like, ‘man, I’m about to lose my life. I’m about to die.’ I’m like it’s a big bathroom so I’m just like hopefully he might miss or whatever, but I mean there was nowhere to go,” said Dasilva.
“Then finally it stops just like that. It just got really quiet and then the toilet flushed again,” said McMurry. “When it flushed it was probably one of the most frantic moments I’ve had in my life. That right there could’ve killed me. It could’ve alerted the person out there shooting.”
Shaw watched the shooter and decided to try and stop him while he was reloading.
“Well, I was gonna die. In my head, I was already dead. So, I decided I was just gonna fight. That was pretty much it. I was either gonna die or I was gonna live to see another day. And I heard that voice say, ‘do it, do it now’. And I was through the door,” said Shaw.
Shaw wrestled the gun away from the shooter and threw it over the counter. Then, he pushes the gunman out of the front door. The gunshots stop.
“Finally, we open the door and we’re peeking out the door trying to like see, and that’s when we looked down and saw the empty gun clip and the door. And the glass is shot out,” said McMurry.
McMurry went to look for Shaw and Dasilva went to find his brother, who is bleeding.
“I was just telling him it was gonna be OK. He was gonna be ok.”
Shaw ran to search for McMurry.
“I’m yelling for him and somebody said, ‘is this him over here?’ It wasn’t him. Stepped over a body, walked back to the back and I finally see him. He’s pale, white, scared, and nobody knows what I’ve done in that moment, in that second,” said Shaw.
While Shaw saved many lives that night, four people did not survive.
Akilah Dasilva, 23, died from blood loss at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. DeEbony Groves, 21, a senior at Belmont, was killed while seeking cover under a table. Taurean Sanderlin, 29, was working at Waffle House that night. He was killed while taking a smoke break. Joe Perez, 20, who had moved to Nashville mere months before the shooting, was also shot and killed outside the restaurant.
“Probably for the first two or three months I still could see Joe laying on the concrete,” said McMurry.
“As soon as we walked out the door we saw Joe Perez. Eyes open, grey,” Shaw said.
“Looking at you while you walk out the door,” said McMurry.
McMurry and Shaw go to the hospital where Shaw is treated for burns he sustained while grabbing the hot barrel of the AR-15.
The friends then go home and the incident is on the news. Word began to spread about a hero who stopped a mass shooter.
“I went home and it was just, it was just stuffy. My dad was looking at me like he never looked at me before,” said Shaw. “My sisters were looking at me like ‘are you ok?’ Cause it had just came on the news and I was telling them yea. They was calling me the patron at the time. Nobody knew who I was at first and as soon as they did, James Shaw.
“The first to call me was the mayor. I had to delete my phone number off Facebook and everything for my electrical business. I had like 800 text messages, a thousand missed calls, a thousand voicemails. Only time I had seen somebody’s picture like that on Instagram was when somebody died. I literally saw my picture like 20 times. I just flip up my screen like this on that day.”
Overwhelmed, James wanted to go to church. Jefferson Missionary Baptist Church has been at this corner in North Nashville for over 130 years. James’s family belonged long before he was born.
“The reason I came here and invited him to come here because I needed that energy, I needed that support that I get from my church family,” said Shaw.
“It was like night and day. You think about the event that happened that night and then to come to something so bright as a church, and the people around, it’s day. It was good. It was the only place that made sense to go quite honestly.”
“I don’t think anybody in the church actually knew what was going on until the pastor kinda said it,” Shaw said.
“Ironically, the sermon I preached was called “I have a Testimony.” It was from Psalm 1:18, verses 10 through 14, and what a testimony James had that morning,” said Pastor Aaron Marble.
“Then the mayor walked in and everything started kinda rolling and people started putting it together,” said Shaw.
Shaw was thrust into the spotlight and strangers know McMurry’s face and name.
A week after the shooting, McMurry learns his wife is pregnant and he says the news puts things into perspective.
“I mean realistically I could’ve not made it to see my newborn daughter. I don’t know why I was there. Don’t know why he was there, but if I don’t make it out of that situation, thankful to him, my daughter is fatherless, my son who’s four, he’s fatherless. My newlywed wife, we’re going on almost two years now, she’s husbandless.
“Every day I live past the situation it means more and more and more to me. Cause, like I said, He put us here. I don’t know what my purpose is, clearly I have not fulfilled it for Him, not met His journey, but it means so much that I’m still here. I have the ability to walk and talk with a sound mind. Kiss my wife, kiss my kids, kiss my mother and father still. That means a lot to one. So, I don’t take that for granted, I don’t take this guy for granted.”
However, the friends say they still struggle with survivor’s guilt and trauma.
“There’s a lot of stuff that goes on when the cameras are off that people don’t see,” said Shaw. “To be honest with you, people don’t know that I have PTSD.
“People don’t know that I’ve had flashbacks every single day, every single day since the incident. I see dead people on my floor walking when I get up in the morning. I see shadows at night. Stuff that I used to do I don’t do anymore. I can’t take my life for granted, it kinda feels like life is kinda like in a sandglass. There is a part of James that unfortunately died that day.”
“I still think about it every morning,” said McMurry. “Night doesn’t affect me as much as it used to. Our master bedroom overlooks the steps that go down in our townhome. Probably for the first two or three months, I still could see Joe laying on the concrete.”
“Then for some reason, I could always see things walking up the stairs. After a lot of prayer, therapy and realizing that Xfinity does a great job on my home security system, I don’t see those shadows as much.
“But there are nights. Monday night was one of them. I was tired, stressed from work dealing with a lot and I looked up and saw something moving in the staircase and I was like ‘close your eyes and go back to sleep.’ You don’t tell your wife things like that all the time, you know? Just ‘cause you don’t want her to worry about you as much.”
“I’m just trying to be as vulnerable as possible, so people really know what’s really going on, you know?” Said Shaw. “Something as simple as me getting out the shower and after you get out the shower, you dry off and he was naked. So, for a period of time and still sometimes to this day when I get off and dry myself off before I look into the mirror I’m in the nude, I’ll have a flashback of him walking to the door while he’s in the nude. I mean, I can’t make this stuff up, this is real.
“I just deal with it every day and I still see shadows. I still see a figure. I used to like scary movies, now it’s hard for me to watch scary movies. It’s hard for me to go to the movie theaters and not have a plan of attack for when I wanna exit. When I go out with my daughter, how am I gonna protect her? When I got out with my mom, my back’s never to the door.”
Still, the friends believe they had to be at the Waffle House on April 22, 2018, at 3:24 a.m.
“It was destiny. It was never ever gonna be anything else. It was gonna be written,” said Shaw.
“I agree with you. It was written,” said McMurry. “I believe I was a vessel. A lot of people talk about me pushing people into the bathrooms. But I think really God used me to get him there. It’s crazy cause I don’t think most best friends can say they ever went through and then survived. Walked out on your own two feet. Everyone didn’t get that opportunity, right? And I think that hurts us more than probably people know. We actually got to walk out together, get into an ambulance together, you know what I mean? Conversate, call our loved ones, see our loved ones the next day, come to church and fellowship. Other people were in hospitals and mourning and doing things like that. You know the fact that we were blessed enough to be in that avenue, do what was done. It’s a blessing. Truly, truly a blessing.”
The friends look to give back to their community and spend more time with family.
“Sometimes it’s definitely hard to stay positive but when it’s hard to stay positive usually I try to go see my 36-inch tall bag of fun, my little girl who immediately will put a smile on my face as soon as I see her,” said Shaw. “Or I’ll go talk to kids or something like that. And, you know, um just try to just one of my coping mechanisms that make me feel better is to go talk to kids and see where their head is and try to make things better.”
Though they still think about the four people who couldn’t be saved and their families.
“The Dasilvas lost a son that night,” said Shaw. “Groves family lost a daughter that night. Sanderlin family lost a son that night. Perez family lost a son that night. And all they were doing was trying to do is go get some Waffle House. It’s just wild to think of.”
James Shaw Jr helped raise thousands of dollars for the families of the victims. If alive today, Dasilva would have been 24; Sanderlin would be 30; Groves would be 22 and Perez would have been 21.