NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The man who wrestled the gun away from the Waffle House shooting suspect in Tennessee said Sunday if he were going to die, the gunman would “have to work to kill me.”
Police are calling James Shaw Jr. a hero for saving lives in the busy restaurant, but the 29-year-old Nashville resident said he only made a split-second decision to challenge the shooter and called it a “selfish” act to avoid being killed.
Shaw said at a news conference Sunday he had spent an evening out at a nightclub and entered the restaurant minutes ahead of the gunman. He said he and another friend were seated at a counter when he heard gunshots, thinking at first that a stack of freshly washed plates had crashed down.
Then, he said, restaurant workers scattered and he turned and saw a body near the front door as the gunman burst in. It was then he realized he had heard gunshots.
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“I looked back and I saw a person lying on the ground right at the entrance of the door, then I jumped and slid … I went behind a push door — a swivel door,” Shaw said. “He shot through that door; I’m pretty sure he grazed my arm. At that time I made up my mind … that he was going to have to work to kill me. When the gun jammed or whatever happened, I hit him with the swivel door.”
Shaw said it was then that they began wrestling, ignoring his own pain as he grabbed the hot barrel of the AR-15 weapon.
“He was kind of cussing while we were wrestling around. When I finally got the gun he was cussing like I was in the wrong,” he said. “It wasn’t any kind of talking between us; I just knew I just had to get that away from him.”
Of the gun, he added: “I grabbed it from him and threw it over the countertop and I just took him with me out the entrance.” Shaw said after getting the man out of the Waffle House, he then ran one way and saw the suspect jogging or trotting another way.
Shaw’s right hand was bandaged at the news conference. He also said he had an apparent bullet graze on one elbow and fell and hit his knee as he escaped, landing in the hospital for a time early Sunday. He added he didn’t see himself as a hero, but feels certain he wouldn’t be alive if he hadn’t succeeded.
“I didn’t really fight that man to save everyone else. That may not be a popular thing,” said Shaw, who was raised in the area, went to Tennessee State University and now works as a wireless technician for AT&T. “I took the gun so I could get myself out” of the situation. But he said he was glad to save other lives as well.
At Sunday’s news conference, Waffle House CEO Walter Ehmer joined several law enforcement agents in thanking Shaw for his bravery.
“You don’t get to meet too many heroes in life,” Ehmer said before addressing Shaw, who dabbed at tears in his eyes. “We are forever in your debt.”
When Shaw’s father went to visit him in the hospital before he was released, he had one piece of advice for his son: “Don’t do that again.”
“I take no pride in him charging a loaded gun,” James Shaw Sr. said. “I do take pride in him helping save the lives of other people.”
After the son’s release from the hospital, the family went to church together.