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What We Can Learn From the Waffle House Hero

Waffle House Shooting Hero | James Shaw | The Secure Dad

Early Sunday morning a gunman opened fire on a Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee killing four innocent people. Authorities say at approximately 3:30 am a 29-year-old wearing nothing but a green coat started shooting outside the restaurant before working his way inside. Once there he was confronted and disarmed by a man who had moments before been eating with a friend. The suspect was arrested nearby 34 hours later.

Note: The shooter’s name will not be used in this article.

James Shaw | The Secure Dad

Photo Credit: James Shaw Jr.

The hero who stopped the shooter is 29-year-old is James Shaw Jr. an electrician who was dining with a friend after a night out at a club. In interviews with the media we learn about what Mr. Shaw’s thought process was before he acted to save his life and the lives of everyone else in the restaurant.

Fighting May Have Been The Only Option

According to an interview, Mr. Shaw says was sitting at the counter near the door where the shooter entered. If you’ve seen one Waffle House, you’ve seen them all. They all follow the same floor plan with rare exception; a rectangle with the main door located right in the middle of the restaurant.

Knowing this, the shooter could have been between Mr. Shaw and any sort of escape route. He and other diners rushed to the bathroom area for immediate shelter. Mr. Shaw says he understood that the door they’d closed to separate them from the shooter wasn’t bulletproof and something besides hiding was necessary.

That’s when Mr. Shaw knew he had to act and saw his opportunity to disarm the gunman. This is an excellent example of situational awareness as Mr. Shaw knew where he was in relation to the shooter, that his hiding spot/cover wasn’t safe and that more needed to be done to stay safe.

Shaw Surprised the Shooter

Mr. Shaw says he thought “He’s going to have to work for this kill.” That’s the right mindset to have. No one has the right to take your life from you. God gave you this life and you need to fight for it.

In an interview with The New York Times, when Mr. Shaw rushed into action, he said the shooter was upset with him for resisting.

“He was mad at me,” he said. “I was just trying to live. I wasn’t trying to get no money from him, I wasn’t trying to do anything from his standpoint. I just wanted to live, and he was, like, astonished, that I wanted to live.” - James Shaw Jr.

Mr. Shaw struggled with the shooter for one to two minutes before he gained control of the rifle. Once he had it, he threw it over the counter where it landed near the cook who was hiding from the shooter. Both Mr. Shaw and the shooter continued their struggle until the it carried them outside into the parking lot where they separated. When it was over, Mr. Shaw had a blister on his hand and a wound on his arm from where a bullet grazed him.

Mr. Shaw describes the shooter as “astonished” he wanted to live. We can conclude that the shooter most likely didn’t think about someone standing up for their right to life. Perhaps the shooter thought he’d massacre everyone in the restaurant without the slightest bit of resistance. By all accounts when the shooter was met with resistance it seems that he wasn’t ready. This interrupted his plan and changed the outcome of the event.

Photo Credit: Metro Nashville Police Department

Good Example of Run, Hide, Fight

Mr. Shaw’s brave actions gives us a good example of what to do in an active shooter situation: run, hide and fight if you must.

When the shooting started Mr. Shaw moved to the bathroom area to seek cover. Check off run and hide on the list. Going out the front door wasn’t an option as the shooter was entering that way. Knowing that the door separating him and others from the shooter wasn’t bullet proof in the bathroom area, Mr. Shaw instinctively knew something else needed to be done.

Seeing the shooter pause to reload his rifle, Mr. Shaw took that moment to strike back. He knew that if the rifle was reloaded more people were going to get hurt, including himself. The fight was an act of self preservation as well as a selfless act to save others. Clearly without his actions more people were going to get hurt and potentially die from those wounds.

Shaw Didn’t Have Combat Training

CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Mr. Shaw if he’d had any sort of combat training. I think this question was to see if there was some sort of “reasonable” explanation for Mr. Shaw’s heroic acts. As if to insinuate only a soldier or law enforcement officer could act the way he did. But Mr. Shaw describes himself as a normal guy with no combat training.

Mr. Shaw says he’s not a hero though pretty much all of America would politely disagree. He says that every person has inside of them what he had to fight of the shooter. We know this as intuition.

Everyone one of us has intuition that wants to keep us safe and Mr. Shaw used his to stay alive. We don’t have to be soldiers or police officers to protect ourselves. Our personal safety is our responsibility.

Learn how to make your home safer | The Secure Dad

Continued Heroics

Mr. James Shaw isn’t done being a hero. As if disarming a gunman while sustaining his own wounds isn’t enough, he started a GoFundMe campaign to help the victims of the shooting. As of the writing of this article the fund has exceeded its $15,000 goal and currently stands at more than $132,000 and climbing.

Learn what to do to prepare your family for an active shooter event. For more on keeping your family safe in public and at home, consider The Secure Dad Newsletter.

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Andy Murphy

Andy Murphy founded The Secure Dad in 2016 with the aspiration to help families live safer, happier lives. What started as a personal blog about family safety has turned into an award-winning podcast, an Amazon best-selling book, and online courses. He focuses his efforts in the areas of home security, situational awareness, and online safety.


Andy is a husband and father. His interests include coaching youth basketball, hiking, and trying to figure out his 3D printer.

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