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'I'm Not A Hero,' Says James Shaw Jr., Acclaimed As Hero Of Waffle House Attack

"I think anybody could've did what I did," said James Shaw Jr., who disarmed a gunman at a Nashville-area Waffle House, where four people were killed. He spoke at a news conference with law enforcement officials on Sunday.
Jason Davis
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"I think anybody could've did what I did," said James Shaw Jr., who disarmed a gunman at a Nashville-area Waffle House, where four people were killed. He spoke at a news conference with law enforcement officials on Sunday.

Updated at 2:39 p.m. ET

"I'm not a hero. I'm just a regular person," said James Shaw Jr., who police say saved lives by disarming a man who opened fire Sunday at a Waffle House in Tennessee. Shaw insists he acted only to save himself — but many others are calling him a hero for stopping the violence.

"I think anybody could've did what I did if they're just pushed in that kind of cage," Shaw said, "and you have to either react or you're going to, you know, fold."

Shaw was speaking at a news conference convened by city leaders after the late-night attack, in which six people were shot in Antioch, Tenn., on the outskirts of Nashville. Three of the victims died at the scene, and a fourth died at the hospital. The suspect, Travis Reinking, was captured Monday afternoon after an intense manhunt.

Police offered praise for Shaw.

"He is the hero here, and no doubt he saved many lives," Metro Nashville Police spokesperson Don Aaron said on Sunday.

Shaw, 29, is the father of a young girl and lives in Nashville, according to his Facebook page. He attended Tennessee State University and works as a technician for AT&T.

On Sunday, he was asked if he had any sort of military training, and if he was surprised by what he'd done. "Yeah, I knew I had it in me. I haven't had any specific combat training," he said. "I just fight my daughter every night, so I can put her to bed."

Shaw and a friend, Brennan McMurry, had been out Saturday night when they were looking for a bite to eat. They tried one Waffle House, but it was too crowded. So they went to the restaurant on Murfreesboro Pike in Antioch, where a gunman opened fire and began killing people, first outside and then inside. It didn't stop until Shaw managed to take the man's rifle away.

When asked about his heroic act, Shaw has repeatedly demurred.

"I did that completely out of a selfish act. I was completely doing it just to save myself. Now, me doing that, I did save other people. But I don't want people to think that I was the Terminator, or Superman or anybody like that. It was just, I figured if I was going to die, he was going to have to work for it."

At the news conference and in interviews, Shaw has said he's sorry for the loss of life at the restaurant, and that he feels badly that he couldn't get to the gunman sooner.

When the shooting started, Shaw said he dived toward the bathroom. A bullet grazed his elbow — and he realized there was nowhere else for him to go. When Shaw saw the gunman point the barrel of his rifle down toward the ground, pausing to either reload or fix a jam, Shaw saw his chance.

"This is it here, this is all you have," he recalled thinking, in an interview at his house with local TV news station WSMV.

"In the bathroom, it's only one way in and one way out, and I was like, he's going to have to work for this kill — for me, personally. So I just got a head full of steam, and I ran through the door. And it worked out like I wanted it to," he said.

When asked if he had been scared, Shaw laughed and said, "Yes."

Shaw said he hit the gunman with the door. He then grabbed the rifle, burning the palm of his hand, and eventually wrestled it away. During their struggle, Shaw said, the attacker spoke to him.

"He was cursing me, because, you know, I was taking his gun from him. And then after I got the gun, he was just like — he acted like I was in the wrong," Shaw said. "And I was like, 'I'm just trying to live.' "

Shaw said that at the time, his own wounds and the gunman's strange appearance didn't matter.

"He was also naked, and that was the last thing on my mind," Shaw said. "I can walk away from a burned hand and a man's nudity. But a couple of bullet holes, you might not be able to walk away from that."

The only thing that mattered, he said, was to get the gun away. And when he finally succeeded, he threw it over the restaurant's counter.

Some of the details of the chaotic and violent situation are a blur, Shaw said. But he recalled that once the immediate threat was over, he just wanted to get out of the restaurant. There was just one problem: The gunman was still there.

"He was in the middle of the door, and I was like, 'You're still in the way. So you have to come with me,'" Shaw said. "So I don't know if I picked him up and just slung him with me out the door, but I knew I needed to get out the door."

After that, Shaw recalled that he went back to check on his friend to see if he had been shot.

"I'll say it again: I didn't really fight that man to save everybody else," Shaw said at Sunday's news conference. "I know that might not be a popular thing, but I'm really honest. I'm going to be honest to the core: I took the gun so I could get myself out."

On the day after the shooting, Shaw went to church with his family. "He didn't skip church to be laid up," the Rev. Aaron Marble said, according to member station Nashville Public Radio.

Shaw says members of his fraternity also visited him in a show of support. In the future, he said, he plans to seek professional help to talk about what happened, and reconcile it with his life.

The reason Shaw wants to talk to a professional is the same idea that drew him out of that bathroom. As Shaw told WSMV, "I want to progress in my life. I want to move on forward."

As for Shaw's young daughter, she's currently in Chicago on a trip for the birth of her baby cousin.

"She'll be back here on Monday," Shaw said, "and I can't wait to hug on her and love on her."

Shaw has also started a Go Fund Me page to benefit the families of the attack's victims. In just over 16 hours, it raised more than $20,000 — surpassing the initial goal of $15,000.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.