Abede Dasilva always tried to protect his younger brother. So when he ran out of the bathroom where he had been hiding from gunfire that broke out at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville early Sunday, he was looking for Akilah.
Akilah Dasilva died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center soon after. He was one of four victims killed in the attack. DeEbony Groves, 21, Taurean C. Sanderlin, 29, and Joe Perez Jr., 20, died inside the Waffle House, where authorities say Travis Reinking opened fire before a customer wrestled his semiautomatic AR-15 rifle away from him.
Waggoner, 21, of Nashville, is among two victims in stable condition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Sharita Henderson, 24, of Antioch, Tenn., also remains hospitalized.
The shooting unleashed a nearly 34-hour manhunt for Reinking, who was arrested in a wooded area about a mile from the Waffle House on Monday afternoon.
Akilah Dasilva “accomplished so much in such a short space of time,” said Abede Dasilva, 29, noting that he and his brother had released a rap music video the day before the shooting. “There was so much left for him.”
He described his younger brother, who studied engineering technology at Middle Tennessee State University, as a quick learner who was good with technology. Dasilva said that, even at 4 years old, his little brother was beating him at video games — despite their six-year age gap. Akilah Dasilva’s love of video games turned into a passion for engineering, videography and photography, and an ability to “fix anything,” his brother said.
“He was inspiring to me,” he said.
In a written statement, their mother, Shaundelle Brooks, said her son “had a smile that could light up a room and a laugh that would warm your heart.”
She called the shooting a “senseless act of terrorism and hate” and said that her family hopes the tragedy will lead to “true gun reform.”
Relatives of Taurean C. Sanderlin, who was working as a cook at the Waffle House, said he rarely talked about politics or gun policies. But his cousin Maria Holt said the family is bothered by the circumstances around the shooting, particularly that Reinking’s father gave him access to the AR-15 rifle used in the rampage, after officials had revoked Reinking’s firearm license.
“There is no one who is more responsible for a child’s behavior than a parent,” Holt said. She called Sanderlin, who had worked at Waffle House for five years, a “kind, gentle-hearted gentleman.”
“He is the one who opens every door for ladies,” said Holt, 33, a nurse. “He’s quiet, but he opens up when he gets to know you.”
Sanderlin, who grew up in Nashville and Stanton, Tenn., played football and liked hunting and fishing in the country with his father when he was growing up, she said.
He was saving up money for one day when he might have had a family of his own.
“Some people want to cook fancy food in fancy restaurants, but he wanted to be comfortable in a job he liked,” Holt said.
DeEbony Groves, who was weeks away from graduating from Belmont University with a degree in social work, had “ambitious and endless potential,” the university’s student government association wrote on Facebook.
She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, held down a part-time job and regularly attended a Baptist church, an aunt said.
Still, she regularly made time to see her 73-year-old grandmother, who lives about 40 miles away in the town of Portland, Tenn. Carolyn Groves said her granddaughter came out this month for a typical visit: DeEbony Groves stretched out on the sofa while her grandmother ribbed her about a boyfriend and insisted on seeing his photo.
“She was a sweetheart. Stubborn, kind of like, but a sweetheart,” Carolyn Groves said. “I called her my little darling. That was my nickname for her.”
DeEbony Groves was “real smart,” she said — a strong student from the time she started primary school and on the dean’s list at least once at Belmont. She was mulling a move to New York after graduation, her grandmother said.
“We really hadn’t talked a lot about what she was going to do afterward,” said her aunt, Angela Clay. “But I know it was going to be something, because she was extremely smart.”
Clay described Groves’s parents and brother as “managing” their grief right now.
“You know, this was senseless. It didn’t have to happen,” Clay said. “She was a beautiful soul.”
Joe Perez Jr. moved to Nashville last December to live and work with his older brother, Christian Perez, 26, who delivers and installs home appliances.
Late Saturday, he sent a text message to his mother saying he was on his way home after being out with friends.
“He said, ‘I miss you and I love you,’ ” Joe Perez Sr. said in an interview at his home in Buda, Tex.
Sunday morning, Christian Perez called his parents to tell them his brother hadn’t made it home. Perez Sr. and his wife tracked their son’s phone to the Waffle House. A frantic Christian Perez called his parents back after finding his brother’s car in the parking lot of the crime scene.
“He was crying and yelling,” Perez Sr. said. “He blames himself. He just feels bad that he couldn’t protect him.”
Perez Jr. was a social butterfly who enjoyed spending time with his friends and family, including his brother’s daughter, who was born in October, Perez Sr. said.
“He was a very loving person,” he said.
Perez Jr., who grew up in Kyle, Tex., attended school in the Hays Consolidated Independent School District south of Austin but withdrew in 2015, his sophomore year, a district spokesman said. His father said college wasn’t for him, and Perez Jr. had mostly busied himself with “odds and ends” for employment, his father said, like working in area convenience stores. When his older brother asked him for help in Nashville, Perez Jr. was eager to go.
“We blame ourselves, too, for sending him there,” Perez Sr. said. “But it was just some idiot with a gun. We never would have expected this.”
Sarah Grace Taylor in Antioch, Tenn., contributed to this report.