Text Messages Provide Peek Into Waffle House Shooting Suspect's Paranoid Delusions

By the time of the April 22 shooting at a Nashville Waffle House restaurant, suspect Travis Reinking had already come to the attention of law enforcement due to his increasingly erratic behavior.

By Gina Tron

The suspect behind April’s mass shooting at a Nashville Waffle House reportedly showed warning signs of concerning behavior prior to the incident by regularly sending his father delusional messages, according to texts filed as evidence in federal court this week.

Travis Reinking, 29, allegedly opened fire inside one of the chain’s locations on April 22, armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle and killing four people and wounding two others before leading authorities on a day-long manhunt.

The newly filed texts between Reinking and his father, Jeffrey Reinking, appear to reveal consistent paranoia.

The man accused of killing four people in a Nashville Waffle House used to send his father text messages in which he punctuated everyday chitchat with delusional rants.

Police say 29-year-old Travis Reinking was nearly naked, only wearing a green jacket, when he opened fire outside the restaurant on April 22 and then stormed inside. Police have said there would have been far more casualties if it weren't for a quick-thinking restaurant patron who wrestled the AR-15 rifle away from the gunman.

By the time of the shooting, Reinking's erratic behavior had already come to the attention of law enforcement, including the Tazewell County Sheriff's Office in Illinois, where he lived part-time.

According to several incident reports, Reinking believed the singer Taylor Swift was stalking and harassing him, including hacking into his computer and phone. He believed the police and his family were part of the conspiracy, and his delusions went back to at least August 2014.

The texts between father and son that were filed as evidence in federal court this week begin in April 2017, just a year before the shooting, as Reinking discussed making money by selling a patent. Friendly back-and-forth texts about work and dinner continued until May 21, 2017, when Reinking told his father he was going to start keeping his phone off most of the time and would go to the library when he wanted to use the internet.

“These people are still listening and reading stuff on my phone over the internet," he wrote. "I don't want to be told gay things inadvertently when I'm trying to learn about something else, and they have been saying stupid stuff like I'm a transsexual, and things like that."

In another text, the suspect wrote, "These people told me that you guys signed a non disclosure [sic] agreement, to hide it from me. If your [sic] helping them, please stop no matter what it cost you. I don't think you fully realize what these people have been doing to me. ... These people tried to kill me."

The texts also reveal apparent flip-flopping between pleasant conversations and rage.

After the suspect’s father texted him about a job, Reinking responded, "You're going to hell for what you are doing. Don't say nobody warned you. You are the same type of people who nailed Jesus to the cross. They acted out of fear because of what they didn't understand."

Then, just one day later, he texted his father, "Their [sic] is a red jeep Cherokee for sale at the corner of Baer and 9 right now for 6k. Looks newer and nice."

During the summer of 2017, Reinking accused his father of being a "psychopath" and also told him, "You are actively assaulting me, with organized crime, and then being dishonest about doing it."

But, within a week, he asked his father a question about insurance.

That same summer,  Reinking was arrested by the Secret Service for trespassing on White House grounds. He told police at the time he wanted to meet with President Donald Trump, and also said he was a "sovereign citizen,” according to WTOP-TV in Washington, DC.

It is unclear if he was referring to the sovereign citizen movement, a loose collective of Americans who, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “believe that they get to decide which laws to obey and which to ignore, and they don't think they should have to pay taxes.”

In Nov. 2017, Reinking texted his father, "Dad, I got a place out of town now, I'm going to need to get my firearms back from you somehow."

Jeffrey Reinking had stored his son's rifles and handgun in his gun safe after state police revoked Travis Reinking's Illinois firearms owner identification. The official reason for the revocation was that he was a non-resident, although officials have said the action came at the request of federal agents after the White House arrest.

At least three separate lawsuits by family members of the victims fault Jeffrey Reinking for negligence because he returned the guns to his son.

Jeffrey Reinking's attorney said in a deposition filed on Monday that a criminal investigation of the matter is ongoing. But the document also says Reinking did not believe he had the authority to keep his son's guns once Travis Reinking demanded them back.

The last test between father and son occurred last November, when Jeffrey Reinking invited his son over for breakfast.

After that, Travis Reinking left town and his father did not know for certain where he was until he heard about the April shooting, Jeffrey Reinking said in the deposition. The shooting left four people dead: Taurean C. Sanderlin, 29, Joe R. Perez, 20, Akilah Dasilva, 23, and DeEbony Groves, 21.

After the attack, Travis Reinking was ordered to receive treatment in a mental facility for schizophrenia. By October, prosecutors said mental health officials had concluded Reinking was competent to face charges in court.

Jeffrey Reinking sent several texts that went unanswered between the time his son left town and the shooting, including one on Jan. 10, 2018, that reads, "Mom and I are wondering if everything is ok. We haven't heard from you. And we are getting concerned."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

[Photo Credit: Metro Nashville Police Department]

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