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Waffle House shooting suspect Travis Reinking arrested, refusing to answer questions, police say

James Shaw Jr. wrestled away Travis Reinking's rifle in a restaurant shooting in Antioch, Tenn., on April 22 that left four dead. (Video: Patrick Martin, Allie Caren, Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

Police on Monday arrested a man accused of killing four people at a Waffle House this weekend, ending a 34-hour, door-to-door manhunt that locked down schools and sent fear rippling across the Nashville region.

Authorities discovered Travis Reinking, 29, hiding in the woods behind a construction site about a mile from the restaurant where the shooting occurred in the community of Antioch, southeast of downtown Nashville. Police said Reinking immediately lay on the ground and surrendered when an officer approached him with his gun drawn.

Reinking was taken to a hospital after his arrest and booked later Monday at the Hill Detention Center on four counts of criminal homicide.

Reinking requested a lawyer and refused to answer questions or make a statement, said Don Aaron, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. He did not explain how Reinking eluded officers, police dogs and search helicopters, and he would not say what drove the suspect to allegedly open fire on apparent strangers early Sunday morning.

Reinking’s bond was set at $2 million — $500,000 for each homicide count. He is scheduled to make his first appearance in court Wednesday morning.

Reinking had accumulated a long list of red flags in recent years; police said he showed signs of mental instability, had extensive run-ins with authorities, and had his firearms license revoked and his guns taken away by authorities last year. He allegedly carried out the mass shooting with one of the guns police had removed.

The scene after a gunman opened fire at a Waffle House in Nashville

Shooting suspect Travis Reinking is seen after he was captured by police in Nashville. (Jose Romero/AFP/Getty Images)

Last summer, Reinking was arrested outside the White House after he tried to cross a security barrier, declaring himself a “sovereign citizen” who wanted to speak with President Trump. The incident put Reinking under the scrutiny of the Secret Service and the FBI, as well as state and local police in Illinois, where he lived at the time.

In August, state and local authorities seized his guns and gave them to his father, Jeffrey Reinking, who agreed to keep the firearms secure and away from Travis, officials said. Since Sunday’s shooting, the father has told police that he eventually gave the guns back to his son.

Federal officials said Monday that the transfer was probably illegal and that the older Rein­king might be charged. A young man answering the door at the Rein­king family’s house in Morton, Ill., said the family had no comment.

Police suspect that Travis Reinking is the gunman who opened fire at the Waffle House in Antioch just before 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, wearing nothing but a green jacket.

The man kept shooting as he walked inside, shattering the restaurant’s glass windows. At one point, he stopped, presumably to reload. That’s when customer James Shaw Jr. says he lunged at the gunman, wrestled the weapon away from him and tossed it over the counter.

James Shaw Jr. on why he rushed the Waffle House shooter: ‘He was going to have to work to kill me’

Among the victims is 29-year-old Taurean C. Sanderlin of Goodlettsville, Tenn., a restaurant employee who was fatally shot while standing outside. The others killed were customers: Joe R. Perez, 20, of Nashville; Deebony Groves, 21, of Gallatin, Tenn.; and Akilah Dasilva, 23, of Antioch.

Two others — Shanita Waggoner, 21, of Nashville, and Sharita Henderson, 24, of Antioch — remained hospitalized at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in stable condition on Monday. After the shooting, police said, Reinking was spotted fleeing shirtless into a wooded area behind his apartment.

Just an hour before arresting Reinking, police acknowledged having “no confirmed sightings” of the suspect. Even as authorities expanded their search, with 160 officers scouring surrounding neighborhoods, they said they weren’t sure if he remained in the area.

Late Sunday, a resident of a nearby county told police he had found an empty laptop bag containing a handwritten ID card with Reinking’s name, Aaron said, suggesting that the 29-year-old was in that area the same night the shooting occurred. It remains unclear if the bag was dropped before or after the gunfire, police said.

Reinking’s arrest provided few clues about his activities since the shooting. He was wearing a maroon shirt and had a backpack when taken into custody. Inside the backpack, police said, was a loaded handgun, .45-caliber ammunition, a flashlight and a holster.

A long list of red flags

Beginning in May 2016, Reinking had a number of increasingly fraught encounters with authorities. That month, an emergency response officer found Reinking in a CVS parking lot in Morton, Ill. Reinking told police that pop star Taylor Swift was stalking and harassing him, according to police records. Reinking believed that Swift had hacked into his Netflix account and that his family was involved in the harassment. He told police a bizarre story about a Dairy Queen meetup with Swift that ended with him searching for the singer on the restaurant’s roof.

His parents told officers that he had threatened to kill himself and owned guns at home. Eventually, Reinking agreed to go to a hospital for evaluation, something he told police he had done before.

On June 16, 2017, police said, Reinking went to a local pool wearing a woman’s pink housecoat; he swam in his underwear, exposed his genitals and tried to pick fights with lifeguards.

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That same day, records show that Reinking — who was living in a shop above the offices of his father’s construction business in Tremont, Ill. — walked down to the offices wearing a pink dress, holding a rifle and shouting expletives at employees, before throwing the rifle in his car and speeding away.

An officer called his father, Jeffrey Reinking, who was out of state at the time, according to reports from the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office. The father told police that he had taken three rifles and a handgun away from Travis because his son was having problems. But he eventually returned the guns to his son.

In the report, an officer said he later called Jeffrey Reinking and told him that “when he gets back home, he might want to lock the guns back up until Travis gets mental help which he stated he would.”

James Shaw Jr. described how he disarmed a gunman who opened fire at a Waffle House near Nashville April 22 and killed four people. (Video: Reuters)

Three weeks later, Travis Reinking traveled to Washington and picked a fight with federal authorities.

On July 7, Reinking told authorities outside the White House that he had to get in to speak with the president. He said that “he was a sovereign citizen and has a right to inspect the grounds,” according to a D.C. police report. Sovereign citizens are viewed by the FBI as anti-government extremists who believe they are not subject to governmental laws, and law enforcement officials have described them as a major concern.

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When an officer told him to stop blocking the entrance, Reinking “began to take his tie off and balled it into a fist” while walking past the security barriers and toward an officer, the police report says.

“Do what you need to do,” Reinking said, according to the report. “Arrest me if you have to.”

Reinking was charged with unlawful entry, a misdemeanor, officials said.

He was ordered to perform 32 hours of community service at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Morton, Ill., and to stay away from the White House for four months. He mowed grass, ran a forklift to move pallets of food, and packaged food for distribution to local food banks as well as hygiene packets for hurricane relief, according to court records.

A letter signed by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Steven. E. Hauter, says Reinking completed 33.5 hours of community service.

A woman who answered the phone at the church Monday said Hauter was “not available, and we have no comments.”

Prosecutors dismissed the case against Reinking in November after he completed the terms of the agreement.

After an investigation by the FBI office in Springfield, Ill., the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office said Monday, it was asked by the Illinois State Police to take away Reinking’s firearm owners identification (FOID) card, which he needed to legally possess guns or ammunition in Illinois.

When a person’s FOID card is revoked, they have to hand it over to authorities and fill out paperwork confirming that their guns have been transferred to someone who has a valid card, the sheriff’s office said.

Reinking signed his four guns over to his father on Aug. 24, 2017, according to state records. Matthew E. Espenshade, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Memphis division, said Monday that “every federal resource was brought to bear” in Reinking’s case after his arrest at the White House and the FBI assessment, pointing specifically to the attempts to keep him from possessing firearms.

“We were able to effectively neutralize what we felt was the threat at the time by ensuring that he did not have the ability to purchase or own weapons and that those weapons were taken,” Espenshade said. “He was not able to possess or own those weapons.”

Illinois State Police said they could not provide details about when Reinking obtained the FOID card or whether any red flags arose during his application. It was not immediately clear whether he had been diagnosed with any mental illness. Illinois law bars someone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or has been a patient at a mental institution from obtaining a firearm license.

‘That is your child’

The Waffle House shooting is the latest attack to raise questions about the systems intended to prevent such violence — systems that have repeatedly broken down.

In Parkland, Fla., police and the FBI did not act upon explicit warnings that a teenager intended to shoot up a high school in the weeks and months before 17 people were killed there in February.

Tennessee community experiences second mass shooting in six months

In Sutherland Springs, Tex., a gunman who killed more than two dozen churchgoers last year was able to buy firearms because his domestic violence conviction had not been entered into a national database that would have flagged it during his background check.

The FBI said a breakdown in the background check system also allowed a shooter in Charleston, S.C., to obtain the gun he used to kill nine people in a church there.

The Waffle House shooting is the second in less than a year to hit the town of Antioch, where a masked gunman opened fire at a church last year.

Last fall, Reinking moved to the Nashville area and worked in the construction industry, authorities said. He was fired from a job about three weeks ago, police said, and was recently hired by another employer but had not been to work since April 16.

A few days before the Waffle House shooting, Reinking nearly had another run-in with police. On Tuesday, authorities say he stole a BMW from a dealership in suburban Nashville. Police later tracked the car to Reinking’s apartment complex but did not know who the thief was. After the shooting, a key fob for the BMW was found in Reinking’s apartment, officials said.

Employees at the dealership “had no idea who the man was” who took the vehicle, Aaron said, noting that Reinking refused to give identification to the dealership. Police in Brentwood said charges are pending in the case.

A neighbor near his family’s home in Morton, Ill., said Reinking worked for a while for his father’s company, J&J Cranes.

“He’s a good man. He was raised in a Christian home,” said Bill Koepnick, who called Reinking hard-working and honest. “A guy who perpetrates a crime like that naked? Come on, he’s not in his right mind.”

But Abede Dasilva, who was in the Waffle House with his brother, Akilah Dasilva, when Akilah was fatally shot, said he is struggling to understand why Reinking’s family allowed him to keep his firearms.

“That is your child,” Dasilva said. “If something is mentally wrong with him, then you have to know that. How did they think it was okay to give him his guns back?”

Tara Haelle in Morton, Ill., and Devlin Barrett, Rachel Chason, Keith L. Alexander, Julie Tate, Magda Jean-Louis and Alice Crites in Washington contributed to this report.

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