ANTIOCH, Tenn. — Travis Reinking, suspected of a mass killing, was on the loose in this community on the outskirts of Nashville for 34 hours before police found him lurking in the woods with a loaded handgun Monday afternoon. They said the 29-year-old was armed with an assault-style rifle when he stormed into a local Waffle House early Sunday morning, killing four people.
The arrest allayed the immediate fears of a community gripped by unease over the course of a tense manhunt. But the sense of fear lingered.
They were concerned that Reinking, who was not supposed to have access to guns after he tried to breach the White House grounds in July 2017, was able to get his hands on those guns again so easily. They were concerned that Reinking is white, and all six of his victims were people of color — five black and one Hispanic — in a region with a history of racial tensions. And they were concerned because Antioch, a quiet working-class town of 93,000, now has witnessed two mass shootings in six months.
As the nation grapples with the root causes of a spate of deadly shootings — many with the same type of gun Reinking allegedly used, the AR-15 — Antioch is at the center of it all again. And the community is struggling to come to grips with its budding notoriety, its causes as elusive as the motives for the shootings.
On Monday, theories — and worries — grew across town: Maybe it’s the prevalence of guns that has caused two men in their 20s to go on shooting rampages at gathering spots here, one in a church and the other in a restaurant. Maybe it’s the dearth of mental-health services for those in need.
Angela Marie Durand, a former pharmacist, suggested that it could be related to the opioid epidemic. Clarice Grooms, a real estate agent, said she thinks the violence is related to rising crime and gang activity. Leah Chay, a 38-year-old mother, said she just can’t believe this would happen here, twice.
“Nobody is taking any steps to get at the root causes,” said Mikal Rios, 50, who lives a mile from the Waffle House, where four people were killed and two were injured Sunday morning. “We need to take more steps as adults to address kids that have issues. We need to listen to kids more. We need to listen to what they’re saying.”
Antioch is a 30-minute drive from downtown Nashville, home to auto plant workers and a growing immigrant population, which has led to a smattering of notable Ethiopian and Mexican restaurants locating here. The Waffle House on Murfreesboro Pike — one of several in Antioch — is a popular late-night hangout for local college students and a regular breakfast and coffee destination for their early-riser parents.
There are a lot of churches here — almost two dozen — and like many other American towns, they fill up on Sunday mornings.
Now both of these local mainstays have been targets. Both shootings involved a young man storming into a crowd with a gun, and both involved an unarmed hero who stopped him.
In September, a man identified as Emanuel Kidega Samson walked into the Burnette Chapel Church of Christ and opened fire with two handguns, striking seven people and killing one. Samson, who is black, had attended the church. His victims were white. And police, who have charged him with murder, aggravated assault and civil rights intimidation, told The Tennessean newspaper that his car contained a letter referring to a 2015 shooting by a white man targeting black churchgoers in South Carolina, raising the possibility of a racial motive.
A month later, a group of white supremacists rallied in nearby Shelbyville, which they hoped would attract recruits, in part, because of anger at the Antioch church shooting.
And so, as police searched for Reinking on Monday, Rhonda Miller, who lives in the same apartment complex as the alleged shooter, couldn’t help but wonder whether race had something to do with his attack. Miller, who is black, is a regular at the Waffle House. Had Reinking shown up three hours later, she and her husband might have been there having their morning coffee. And her daughter, Nikia Woods, said a group of her sorority sisters had also just missed the shooting, leaving the restaurant at about 3 a.m., shortly before the shots were fired there.
“It just kind of crossed my mind, like: ‘Wow, did he just target the black people?’ ” Miller said.
Ryan Gatlin, who also lives at the apartment complex, where a majority of residents are black, said he is ready to move.
“Seriously,” he said. “It’s too hot over here to be living next to murderers. Not feeling too safe, especially with all the victims being minority.”
For much of Monday, police were involved in a manhunt. A helicopter moved steadily overhead, and swarms of police, a SWAT team, sheriff’s deputies and FBI agents staged their operations from beneath tents and alongside vehicles in the grocery store parking lot across from the Waffle House.
Mountain View Elementary School, half a mile from the apartment complex where Reinking lived, was in session, but it seemed cloaked in an unnatural silence from the outside. Its playground was empty at lunch hour, and a sign on the door in English and Arabic instructed parents that only students and staff would be allowed to enter the building.
Mizelle Calloway, whose three children attend Cane Ridge High School, said they didn’t go to school Monday because the family “didn’t want to take a chance.”
“It just had everybody up on edge,” said Calloway, who owns a barbershop a mile north of the Waffle House. “I’ve been making sure I’m on point with everything, watching my whereabouts.”
Hauslohner reported from Washington.