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Hero customer may have prevented more deaths in Waffle House shooting

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Four people have died and the suspect is still at large after the weapon was wrested from his hands.

A police vehicle sits outside the Waffle House restaurant in Nashville (Sheila Burke/AP)

A gunman wearing nothing but a green jacket and brandishing an assault rifle stormed a US Waffle House restaurant and killed four people before dawn, according to police, before a customer saving lives by wresting the assailant’s weapon away.

The gunman shot people in the car park before entering the restaurant, where he continued firing until a customer grabbed the rifle, Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said.

Four people were also wounded before the gunman fled, shedding his jacket.

Authorities said they were searching for the suspect, 29-year-old Travis Reinking, and that they were drafting murder warrants for him.

Nashville police tweeted that the pick-up vehicle the gunman drove to the restaurant was registered to Reinking.

Witness Chuck Cordero told The Tennessean newspaper he had stopped to get a cup of coffee and was outside the restaurant when the chaos unfolded around 3.25am.

James Shaw Jr, shows his hand that was injured when he disarmed a gunman (Larry McCormack/AP)
James Shaw Jr, shows his hand that was injured when he disarmed a gunman (Larry McCormack/AP)

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Mr Cordero said the man who wrested the gun from the suspect saved lives.

Police identified the man who grabbed the weapon as 29-year-old James Shaw, Jr.

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Mr Shaw told The Tennessean in an interview that he was “just trying to get myself out.

“I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it.”

The newspaper reported that Mr Shaw was grazed by a bullet, treated and released.

“When I was in the ambulance to hospital I kept thinking that I’m going to wake up and it’s not going to be real,” Mr Shaw said.

“It is something out a movie.

“I’m OK though, but I hate that it happened.”

Mr Aaron, the police spokesman, said three people died at the restaurant and one person died at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, where two others were being treated for gunshot wounds.

Medical Centre spokeswoman Jennifer Wetzel said one was in critical condition and the other was in critical but stable condition.

TriStar Southern Hills Medical Centre spokeswoman Katie Radel in Nashville said two people were treated for minor injuries and released.

Police at the scene of the shooting (George Walker IV/AP)
Police at the scene of the shooting (George Walker IV/AP)

At some point after the gunman entered, Mr Shaw grabbed his rifle and tossed it over a counter, Aaron said.

The gunman then fled and was seen walking, nude, on a road, authorities said.

Police were still searching for him amid a steady rain more than 10 hours after the shooting.

Mr Aaron said Reinking lived near the restaurant in the working- and middle-class Antioch neighbourhood of southeast Nashville, and police used yellow crime scene tape to block public access to an apartment complex about a half-mile from the Waffle House.

Reinking is originally from Morton, Illinois, and was known to both Illinois and federal law enforcement, Mr Aaron said.

The victims’ names were not immediately released.

This photo provided by the Metro Nashville Police Department photo shows the rifle used in the deadly shooting (Police/AP)
This photo provided by the Metro Nashville Police Department photo shows the rifle used in the deadly shooting (Police/AP)

“I think it’s safe to say that person of interest and suspect in this matter is synonymous,” he said.

“This is a very sad day for the Waffle House family,” the company said in a statement on Twitter.

“We ask for everyone to keep the victims and their families in their thoughts and prayers.”

Nashville mayor David Briley described the shooting as “a tragic day” for the city.

“My heart goes out to the families & friends of every person who was killed or wounded,” Mr Briley said in an emailed statement.

“I know all of their lives will be forever changed by this devastating crime.”

Congressman Jim Cooper, whose district includes Nashville, said in an emailed statement that the shooting shows the need for tighter restrictions on “widespread civilian access to military-grade assault weapons”.

Hero James Shaw wipes tears away during a press conference (Wade Payne/AP)
Hero James Shaw wipes tears away during a press conference (Wade Payne/AP)

Authorities say the suspect was arrested last year by the US Secret Service for being in a restricted area near the White House.

Mr Aaron said Reinking’s firearms authorisation was then revoked at the request of the FBI.

Four weapons were seized, including the AK-15 that he allegedly used in the shooting at the Waffle House restaurant.

Aaron says the four guns were returned to the suspect’s father, who acknowledged giving them back to his son.

A Secret Service agent said Reinking had hoped to talk to President Donald Trump.

Special Agent Todd Hudson in Nashville said the suspect “wanted to set up a meeting with the president”.

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