In the early morning of April 22, 2018, a naked man carrying an AR-15 rifle entered a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee. Inside, 29-year-old James Shaw, Jr. and his best friend Brennan McMurry had just sat down at the counter, looking for a bite to eat after attending Brennan’s fraternity party. With their backs to the door, they were watching one of the servers balance a stack of plates when they heard the glass shattering behind them. James was grazed with a bullet as he ran towards the bathroom. Brennan rushed patrons towards the back of the restaurant. Once he was struck in the arm, James said he got very calm and focused. He heard a voice tell him to wait for the gunman to reload. As soon as the gun jammed, the voice then told him to tackle the shooter. James wrestled the gun away and threw it behind the counter, burning his hand in the process. He pushed the both of them outside of the restaurant. James is a big guy, strong and athletic, but when I ask him about the shooter, he says, “I heard he was taller!” The suspect then ran away and was later arrested after a daylong manhunt. Four people died and two were injured as a result of the shooting, but without James’s quick actions, there would have been countless more victims.
One week later, James and Brennan both visited Los Angeles to guest on the Ellen Show and Steve Harvey Show. I got a chance to sit down with both of them inside of The Hundreds Los Angeles on Fairfax and Rosewood. This is our full recorded interview, unedited:
Bobby: Let’s start here. What comes next?
James: So, we’re coming up with a foundation: the James Shaw, Jr. Foundation. That’s simply because everyone calls me James Shaw, Jr. They don’t just say James. With the money that we have [donated], we’re going to use towards the victims. We’re going to look at the deceased victims first, of course. Then there’s two ladies that’s in the hospital right now. We’re going to try to help them out as much as we can. We want to help some of the other victims. Technically, Brennan was a victim, I was a victim. There’s some other people that we’re going to try to help out. Then we’re going to try to bring awareness to mental illness, the public health problem with that—because I mean, it’s a public health problem—and gun awareness also.
Bobby: Are you guys gun owners?
Bobby: Are any of your friends gun owners? Anyone in your community? And if so, how do they feel about that?
James: A friend sent me a picture of his. It’s very—
[James shows me a photo of several guns laid out on a bed]
James: Yeah. And I’m thinking to myself, What do you need that for?
Brennan: I work out with a bunch of like, meatheads, like, bodybuilder guys. And a couple of them are like ex-military guys, but they own those type of weapons because those are the type of weapons they used on the tours. They did four or five tours. So in that point in time, I don’t have really a concern maybe with you owning one of those... but, they need to be controlled, they need to be locked up, they need to be somewhere, because a lot of times, people—I keep getting into this argument with people that, you know, guns don’t kill people, bad people with guns kill people. It’s 100% the truth. Or somebody, maybe they’re out of their mind. Maybe they’re really not bad. You don’t know, right? But if you take those types of weapons off the street, you can get rid of the statistics and you can lower those, right? Because now, a lot of times people never think about,, people steal guns from people who are upstanding citizens. Right, they would never do this. And they steal those and they go use them for bad things. You get those off the streets, there’s a less probability that they would own those guns or be able to get those legally or illegal [for sale]. That’s my stance. I can only speak for myself, you know what I mean? I think that’s just logic, so.
“We’re going to try to bring awareness to mental illness, the public health problem with that… and gun awareness also.”
Bobby: Were you guys activist-minded before this happened?
James: So, not necessarily political activists. From my point of view, it’s just more so like, “Just be safe with it.” If you have it, that’s your thing. But now, it’s like there’s really absolutely no reason for you to have an AR-15. You can say you shoot targets as target practice, it gives you a thrill. That’s fine, go to the gun range. Let the gun range have them. Just for a regular Joe Blow to have one, an AR-15, it’s kind of like a soccer mom having a Formula One dragster car. What do you need that for?
So there’s cars for regular people and there’s cars for racecar drivers. Same thing for guns. I feel like if you’ve had military or police training then yeah, you can own an AR-15. I mean I feel like that’s really smart. But if you don’t, then I don’t really feel like you should own it. I feel like there should be some kind of mental illness test or you should submit background tests. So, there’s a strip club in Nashville, Tennessee, called Deja Vu. And Deja Vu actually did research on it, and it’s harder for them to get a license for a fully clothed lap dance pretty much than it is for you to get an AR-15.
Brennan: Yeah, I mean if you think about like the Bill of Rights, right, like I mean what we’re founded upon, I think anyone should be able to own a gun, protect their household. But I mean, it’s getting crazy to the point now where you can take a gun into a bar. Like, since when did alcohol and firearms mix? Right? So it’s just things like that and I think we really need to look at logical situations that happened because of aggression and alcohol—and you’re going to allow firearms in those places? Just things that don’t make sense that the laws prohibit. And then things that don’t make sense that the law enables… I just don’t get it.
Bobby: Do you know where the shooter got the gun from?
James: He actually got it back from his father after the State of Illinois took the guns from him, because he was actually a [person] of interest from the CIA. He wanted to have an interview with Donald Trump. Of course that didn’t work out.
I’ll tell you how small the world is. So I was about to buy a jeep from a BMW car lot in Nashville from a salesman. So when all this happened, that salesman called me back and he said, “That guy. You know, who did the shooting. He stole the BMW from me!” The same salesman. That’s how small the world is. They didn’t know it was him until they showed a picture of him. They was like, “He stole the BMW from us.”
Brennan: [He] shouldn’t have even been on the street. I mean, if I would’ve stole that BMW, I don’t know if I’d make it out of that situation. So I don’t know.
Bobby: So, how did the shooting go down?
James: So we were both with our backs towards the glass. We were sitting in the stool seats at the counter and we were just watching the cook wash dishes and BJ made a comment like...
Brennan: “He’s going to drop the dishes.” Because they were stacking. Like it was this stacked. It was above the stovetop and he kept stacking them. So I look out there, he’s going to drop those dishes. And then I wish he would’ve. So we hear the splash in the back, essentially the window, being shot out. So I look back at him and I’m like, “Why are the dishes still in your hand?” Because he didn’t drop them. Then I look back and all you see is this big cloud of smoke that’s like glitter because the glass is now embedded in the smoke. So I mean, and you got to think about this, too, like it’s 3:30 in the morning. I have no reason for anyone to come shoot me, anybody to go shoot him. So if somebody shoot through some glass, they ain’t coming for me. At least that’s what I thought, you know what I mean? You’re not thinking mad shit, you think that’d never happen to you. So the first instincts of anyone in that place were, “Let me get out of this because ain’t no reason for him to shoot at me.” But clearly, yeah.
Bobby: He was shooting for anybody.
James: [Points to his hand] This is where I got burned after I grabbed the AR-15 after it was being discharged. It was actually burnt pretty much on all the tips of my fingers and those are cuts and this is where I got shot right here.
Bobby: So you got shot initially and then you tackled him?
Bobby: I would’ve just curled up into a ball...
James: Actually, the shot is where everything became blurry. It’s like I said. Almost felt like somebody else was driving the truck and I was just in the car. Because after I got shot, I did this exercise with my counselor/psychiatrist and she made me remember stuff, like deeply remember stuff. I remember putting my hands down and I was just looking through the glass like... and then once I seen him either reload or unjamming the gun, that’s when a voice in my head said, “Do it now, do it now.”
Bobby: You grabbed the gun and you tackled him and then he just took off?
James: No, I actually pushed him and myself outside the door because I was trying to get outside.
Bobby: Is he a big dude?
Brennan: He looks about the same as him.
James: Depends on how you categorize ‘big.’
Bobby: Is he as tall as you are?
James: For some reason I heard he’s taller than me. But I had the gun above his head so.
Bobby: So there was a struggle? He was fighting back?
“They say a man needs to be strong and all this other shit. But… you need to talk to somebody.”
Bobby: Wow. Have you had time to process how crazy this is because everything started right away with the media right? I feel like months later it’s going to sink in because right now you’re still caught up in it.
James: I’m trying to keep busy.
Brennan: My wife is like, “You need to sit down and rest,” and I’m kind of like, “I don’t want to sit down.” When the sun goes down, that’s when your mind starts wandering. During the day—
James: His hits him at night. Mine hits me in the morning when I’m getting ready to go.
Bobby: When you start thinking about it?
James: We just have random flashbacks.
Brennan: A lot of times people say like PTSD and all this other stuff but no, like seriously, we both go to counselors to talk and everything. A lot of times, they say a man needs to be strong and all this other shit. But I mean, the reality of it is you need to talk to somebody. You need to make sure you’re strong for your family. It’s not trying to be strong for yourself.
James: What we saw was very gruesome-like. We’ve talked about it.
Bobby: The dead?
James: We don’t talk about it like that, but...
Brennan: I think the dead people for sure. I had locked eyes with him for several seconds. Just in awe that he’s just sitting on the sidewalk. But I think the injuries to the people that were living, those were just as gruesome. Like you’re seeing a bullet, I don’t’ know how many times he got shot in that spot but just ripped off. It was like a...
Bobby: Her leg?
Brennan: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I think that kind of messed me up a little bit more. I mean luckily, the two young women are recovering right now and they’ll be okay. We went and visited them in the hospitals. But nobody should have to do that. That’s kind of why we’re raising the money because everyone that got injured or passed away was under 30. So if you just think about that in itself, like nobody’s parents has life insurance policies probably on their 28-year old kid, you know what I mean? And if they don’t have them their selves, like, who’s going to pay for that? That’s kind of the whole reason. If their families cannot have at least that financial burden on them. They’re not going to bring their kids back, right, but at least they don’t have to worry about that.
Bobby: In a weird way, do you feel like you were designated for this purpose at this point and time?
James: Yeah, because we went to a whole different Waffle House and sat down and then we got up from that Waffle House and went to the Waffle House where the shooting was.
Bobby: Oh really?
Bobby: Why did you leave the other one?
James: There was three times as many people.
Brennan: Like there was probably as many people standing outside of that Waffle House that were inside the one we went to.
Bobby: For those of us in LA, what’s Waffle House like? Is it where you go to hang?
Brennan: It’s anything, like, it’s not even just parties, right. I think we just go to Waffle House if you want a cheap meal—you’re going to get breakfast or a patty melt, go grab some eggs and a waffle, like, you go to Waffle House in the South. I mean, it’s just what it is.
Bobby: Has Waffle House reached out to you guys?
Bobby: Thanks, guys. I’ll stop it there.
Donate to James Shaw Jr.’s GoFundMe.