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 do all he could to challenge the shooter and save himself from 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’s arrival. He said he and another friend were seated at a high counter when he heard gunshots. Shaw said he had just seen restaurant workers stacking up freshly washed plates and thought at first that 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.
“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 gun: “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 ... 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 from the struggle. He also said he had an apparent bullet graze on one elbow and fell and hit his knee as he escaped and skinned up some fingers.
He added he didn’t see himself as a hero, adding he’s certain he wouldn’t be alive if he hadn’t succeeded in his mission.
“I didn’t really fight that man to save everyone else. That may not be a popular thing,” Shaw said. “I took the gun so I could get myself out” of the situation.
Tears welled in his eyes at the news conference as law enforcement agents called him a hero. He said he was glad he ended up saving other lives.
Waffle House CEO Walter Ehmer also thanked Shaw at the news conference for his bravery.
“You don’t get to meet too many heroes in life,” Ehmer said before addressing Shaw, who dabbed at his eyes. “We are forever in your debt.”