When a gunman entered an Antioch, Tennesee, diner and opened fire on patrons, Brennan McMurray and James Shaw Jr. bolted toward the back door. In the back of the Waffle House, McMurray tried to funnel customers, including his best friend, Shaw, into the restaurant’s bathrooms.
“He sometimes doesn’t listen to me,” McMurray said, standing next to Shaw on the floor of the state House of Representatives on Tuesday, “and this, by far, is the best time that you haven’t listened to me.”
Shaw, of course, returned to the dining area, where he wrested a rifle away from the gunman and tossed it over the counter before shoving the shooter out the door early Sunday.
A bullet grazed Shaw’s forearm, and he suffered a burn from grabbing the rifle’s barrel, but he saved himself, McMurray and all but four other diners and employees in the process.
Shaw has repeatedly said he acted out of a selfish motive – survival – but, still, he has been roundly hailed as a hero. That continued Tuesday, when the state General Assembly officially recognized his heroism, along with his “penchant for honesty,” in a joint resolution.
“No matter his motivations, Mr. Shaw is indeed a hero; his actions on that fateful morning are unfathomable to most, indescribable by even the chief of police, and very poignant to the citizens of Nashville, who are deeply grateful for his brave actions in the face of extreme adversity that saved many lives,” the resolution said.
Wearing a tan suit and striped shirt, Shaw received a standing ovation from lawmakers as he entered the House chambers. He received another after assistant chief clerk Daniel Hicks read the resolution aloud.
A reserved smile spread across Shaw’s face amid the applause, and state Rep. Jason Powell told the 29-year-old that he embodied the state’s volunteer spirit.
“You are my hero and Tennessee’s hero,” Powell said.
The Nashville native stepped to the podium and repeated his claim that he acted solely out of self-preservation but acknowledged that in doing so, he was able to save the lives of others, which he called “one of the greatest things you could do.”
Calling himself a “genuine person,” Shaw apologized to the families of those who died and said he had recently visited survivors in Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He previously set up an online fundraiser for victims’ families.
“This was the true test of a man,” the father of one said, wiping away a tear as several supporters, including his parents, siblings and minister, looked on.
State Rep. Brenda Gilmore told her fellow lawmakers that Shaw was a role model, not only for young people, but for the General Assembly, as well – a notion outlined in the closing words of the resolution passed Tuesday.
“If a hero is ‘a person noted for courageous acts or nobility of character,’ then James Shaw, Jr. is a hero twice over, for he has demonstrated both his courage and character in a manner few could ever attempt to emulate.”