The heroism of James Shaw Jr. ended a deadly shooting at a Tennessee Waffle House before more lives were lost. But Shaw wants people to know that it doesn’t take a hero to save the day.
Heroes seem untouchable, Shaw told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday.
“I just want to be put out there like a regular person,” he said. Maybe then, if people find themselves in dangerous situations, they’ll find “that same thing within them that they can project out,” he said.
Be it heroism or bravery, Shaw’s actions have drawn praise from police and the public for preventing further bloodshed.
But as he tells it, “I was just trying to live.”
‘He was going to have to work for it’
Shaw was sitting with a friend at the restaurant counter early Sunday morning when police say a gunman wearing nothing but a green jacket opened fire outside the restaurant.
Glass shattered, dust swirled and Shaw said he saw a man lying on the ground.
He bolted from his seat and slid along the ground to the restroom, he said. But he kept an eye and an ear out for the gunman. And the moment the shooter paused, Shaw decided to ambush him.
“I figured if I was going to die, he was going to have to work for it,” Shaw told reporters Sunday.
He charged at the man with the rifle and they tussled for what felt like a minute, maybe two, Shaw said. His adrenaline was pumping as the gunman cursed and fought him, he said.
The barrel of the rifle was still hot when Shaw managed to wrestle it from the gunman, he said. He tossed it behind the counter and the gunman fled.
The encounter left Shaw with a burn on his hand a wound on his elbow where a bullet grazed it.
“The gun was hot and he was naked but none of that mattered,” Shaw said. “I was just trying to get the gun away from him.”
‘I prayed for the victims’
Witness Chuck Cordero saw everything unfold from outside the Waffle House’s famously wide windows.
As Cordero ran away, “I looked back and there was a gentleman wrestling with the gunman,” Cordero told CNN affiliate WSMV.
Cordero described Shaw as a hero. Had the gunman been able to resume shooting, “there was plenty more people in that restaurant” for him to target, he said.
Hours after the incident, Shaw told reporters that what he did was a “selfish act.” “I was completely doing it just to save myself,” he said.
“I don’t want people to think that I was the Terminator or Superman or anybody like that.”
While the gunman was still on the loose Sunday, Shaw went to church with his father, mere hours after he’d confronted the gunman.
“It definitely helped,” he said. “I prayed for the victims.”
In an interview with WSMV, Shaw broke down thinking about the people he couldn’t save and apologized to their families.
“There’s four families that are grieving right now. So much life was lost for no reason. I feel like it could be very selfish of me if I didn’t point it out. And I apologize,” he said.
Shaw said he wants to stay in touch with those families, as well as the survivors. His first step was to create a GoFundMe page Sunday to assist the victims of the shooting, a GoFundMe spokeswoman told CNN. Within hours, the $15,000 goal was nearly met.
On Monday, he visited two of the survivors in the hospital.
Shaw said he is grateful he survived to see his 4-year-old daughter again. He wants her to grow up in a world with less tragedy.
“I hope we can bring violence in all facets – not just gun violence, but all facets of violence – to an end,” he said.
CNN’s Dakin Andone, Phil Gast, Amir Vera and Artemis Moshtaghian contributed to this report.