Without knowing who he was or what he might do, police briefly had Travis Reinking in their sights days before the deadly assault on a Waffle House restaurant.
Alerted to the theft of a BMW from a car dealer last week, officers decided against a risky police chase, knowing the car had a GPS device and could soon be located.
Sure enough, the car was recovered the same day, outside Reinking’s apartment. But police didn’t figure out who stole it until Sunday, after the Waffle House attack. By then, police say, the 29-year-old with a troubled past used an assault weapon — the same AR-15 once seized from him at the FBI’s request — to kill four people and wound four others.
Reinking escaped on foot from the restaurant after a quick-thinking customer wrestled the gun from his grasp, and he shed the only item of clothing he was wearing, a green jacket. By the time he was captured in the woods nearby, police had searched his apartment, and found the key fob to the stolen BMW.
Nashville Police Department Lt. Carlos Lara told reporters that a detective was tipped to the suspect’s presence by some construction workers, and confronted Reinking, who lay down on the ground to be handcuffed. He carried a black backpack, with a silver semi-automatic weapon and .45-caliber ammunition. Reinking then asked for a lawyer and was taken to a hospital before being booked on four counts of criminal homicide.
The arrest ended a 24-hour manhunt involving more than 160 law enforcement officers, but it left troubling unanswered questions about official responses to months of bizarre behavior before the restaurant attack, including encounters with police in Illinois and Colorado and an arrest at the White House that raised red flags.
In May 2016, Reinking told deputies from Tazewell County, Illinois, that music superstar Taylor Swift was stalking him and hacking his phone. Reinking agreed to go to a local hospital for an evaluation after repeatedly resisting the request, the sheriff’s report said.
He would make a similar claim about Swift in Salida, Colorado, nearly a year later, in March 2017, authorities there said.
Another Illinois sheriff’s report said Reinking barged into a community pool in Tremont 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 U.S. Secret Service after he entered a restricted area near the White House and refused to leave, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump. Reinking was not armed, but at the FBI’s request, Illinois police revoked his state firearms card and seized four guns from him, including the AR-15 used in the shootings.
Signs of paranoid delusions continued: In August, Reinking told police he wanted to file a report about 20 to 30 people tapping into his computer and phone and people “barking like dogs” outside his residence, according to a report.
“There’s certainly evidence that there’s some sort of mental health issues involved,” Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Huston said.
But Huston said deputies eventually returned the guns to Reinking’s father on the promise he would “keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis.” And Don Aaron, a Nashville Police spokesman, said Reinking’s father “has now acknowledged giving them back” to his son.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special Agent Marcus Watson said Monday that his father’s action is “potentially a violation of federal law.”
Phone calls to a number listed for the father, Jeffrey Reinking, went unanswered.
It is not clear why Reinking moved recently from Morton, Illinois, and if it had anything to do with being near Swift. She has a home in Nashville, though it is not her only residence. Police say he worked in construction for a while.
Police said about 20 customers were in the restaurant when Reinking opened fire. The first victims were Taurean Sanderlin, 29, of Goodlettsville, and Joe Perez, 20, of Nashville, shot down in the parking lot.
Sanderlin was an employee at the restaurant. Perez’s mother, Trisha Perez, told the Tennessean newspaper after traveling from Texas to collect his body that she pinged her son’s cellphone and was horrified to see the locator saying it was at the Waffle House.
DeEbony Groves, 21, a student at Nashville’s Belmont University; and Akilah Dasilva, 23, a rap artist and music video producer, were killed inside the restaurant before customer James Shaw Jr. grabbed the hot muzzle of the assault weapon and wrestled it away.
Shaw, 29, a Nashville native who works as a wireless technician for AT&T, has been hailed as a hero.
Associated Press writers John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Ed White in Detroit; and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.