The Waffle House Tragedy and a 29-Year-Old with a Troubled Past
In this photo released by the Metro Nashville Police Department, Travis Reinking sits in a police car after being arrested in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday, April 23, 2018. Metro Nashville Police Department via AP)

After Travis Reinking allegedly stole a BMW from a Nashville area car dealer last week, police say they found it outside the apartment where he lived.

Authorities recovered the car but didn’t figure out who had stolen it until too late.

By then, police say, the 29-year-old with a troubled past had shot four people to death early Sunday in a Waffle House restaurant not far from where he lived in Nashville. If not for the efforts of a patron who wrestled the gun away, many more would have died.

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Reinking escaped on foot, shedding the only item of clothing he was wearing, a green jacket. He was found and taken into custody in some woods near the apartments Monday, more than 24 hours later. By then police had searched his apartment, where they say they found the key fob to the stolen BMW.

His arrest ended a manhunt that involved more than 160 law enforcement officers. But it left troubling unanswered questions about his behavior before the shooting — and what could have led to the carnage he is said to have unleashed at the Waffle House.

Construction workers told officers Monday that a person matching Reinking’s description walked into the woods near a construction site, Metro Nashville Police Department Lt. Carlos Lara told reporters. A detective spotted Reinking, who lay down on the ground to be handcuffed when confronted, Lara said. Reinking carried a black backpack with a silver semi-automatic weapon and .45-caliber ammunition.

Police spokesman Don Aaron said Reinking requested a lawyer and was taken to a hospital before being booked on four counts of criminal homicide.

Police said Reinking opened fire in the restaurant parking lot before storming the inside, which contained about 20 people.

Four people — three black and one Hispanic — were killed and four others injured before a customer wrestled the weapon away and Reinking, who is white, ran out, police said.

The Waffle House Tragedy and a 29-Year-Old with a Troubled Past
Waffle House hero James Shaw, left, gets a standing ovation after speaking during a press conference Sunday, April 22, 2018, in Nashville, Tenn. Shaw wrestled the gun from the shooting suspect. Behind Shaw is police spokesman Don Aaron. (Wade Payn/The Tennessean via AP)

Waffle House shooter’s guns were seized but then returned

Travis Reinking exhibited multiple warning signs that he was mentally unstable: He talked openly about delusions that he was being stalked by Taylor Swift. He insisted unknown people were making barking noises outside his home. He even went to the White House on a mission to talk to the president.

Reinking’s behavior resulted in the revocation of his Illinois firearms license, and his weapons were turned over to his father. But authorities say his father simply returned the three rifles and a handgun to his son when he decided to move out of state. The son now stands accused of opening fire Sunday at a Waffle House in Tennessee using an AR-15 that had been among the firearms seized.

The case illustrates the difficulty of keeping guns away from mentally disturbed people and shows how easy it is for them to retrieve confiscated weapons.

“It’s a story of a highly effective law that then has a really dangerous loophole,” said Jonas Oransky, deputy legal director for Everytown for Gun Safety, which works to tighten gun laws.

Loopholes

Under federal law, a gun owner’s weapons can be seized if that person is convicted of a felony or involuntarily committed for mental health treatment. Illinois is one of the few states with a mechanism to allow firearms to be seized if someone’s behavior constitutes a “clear and present danger” but does not necessarily rise to the level of a felony conviction or an involuntary commitment.

Police reports describe Reinking as unstable but not violent. He was well known by local law enforcement, and his troubles were not a mystery to his relatives, who told authorities that he had been having delusions since 2014.

In May 2016, Reinking told deputies from Tazewell County, Illinois, that Swift was stalking him and hacking his phone, and that his family was also involved. He agreed to go to a hospital for an evaluation after repeatedly resisting the request, a sheriff’s report said.

Another sheriff’s report said Reinking barged into a community pool in Tremont, Illinois, last June, and jumped into the water wearing a pink woman’s coat over his underwear. Investigators believed he had an AR-15 rifle in his car trunk, but it was never displayed. No charges were filed.

Last July, Reinking was arrested by the Secret Service after he crossed into a restricted area near the White House and refused to leave, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump. Reinking was not armed at the time, but at the FBI’s request, state police in Illinois revoked his state firearms card and seized four guns from him, authorities said.

The father could face charges for returning the guns, according to Marcus Watson, an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives who spoke Monday at a news conference.

States vary in what they do with firearms that are seized. Some states give the option of selling or transferring the guns to a licensed dealer or law enforcement. Others allow the person to give them to a friend, relative or some other third party. Experts caution about the danger of allowing relatives or friends to take possession of the firearms.

Reinking’s move to Tennessee — which has considerably more lax gun laws than Illinois — exposes another loophole with the laws, experts say.

The Waffle House Tragedy and a 29-Year-Old with a Troubled Past