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May 2018 Hero of the Month: James Shaw, Jr.: The Waffle House Hero

For two months in a row, I am honoring a person who was thrust into a life- threatening situation with no notice, but then acted heroically. Last month, it was a noble French policeman, who at least was trained for the situation he confronted, but who died heroically to save a hostage. This month, it is the ultimate situation of a normal person who acted heroically and saved many. Fortunately, he survived. But there is more to the story, strands that add to the majesty and beauty of what he did and the rippling effect he created.

James Shaw, Jr. was in a Nashville Tennessee Waffle House when a man with a long history of mental illness started shooting customers. Four people were killed and others wounded as the gunman fired 30 rounds in a nanosecond. Shaw was having breakfast with a friend. Initially he thought that the staff had dropped a stack of dishes but then a bullet grazed his arm. He was behind a glass door when he saw the gunman pause to re-load and knew it was his only moment to act, so Shaw ran at the gunman and the two wrestled for the gun. Shaw overpowered him, grabbed the gun and threw it over the counter. The assailant then ran away but was eventually captured after a massive 24 hour manhunt.

Once again, there were numerous warnings before this assault that the gunman was mentally unstable and a threat to society  Three separate incidents in Illinois, Colorado and even an arrest at the White House, each one more serious, were not enough to prompt law enforcement or the judicial system to intervene in any meaningful way.

Within days Shaw was honored at the Tennessee state capital where lawmakers had unanimously passed a resolution recognizing his bravery and gave him a sustained standing ovation. He was still recovering from a gunshot wound and burns from grabbing the muzzle of the gun. By then he had started a GoFundMe account for the victims and visited the wounded in their hospital rooms. Within two weeks, he had raised $225,000 from 6000 donors. The fund is now closed and the proceeds are being distributed from a UBS trust account to the victims and their families.

Shaw issued the following statement:

“To the thousands of people who have expressed their care, prayers, and made financial donations, I can only respond by saying ‘thank you.’ Your gifts to the people who lost their lives and suffered injuries mean so much for all who were impacted by this terrible tragedy.”

Shaw was characteristically humble about what he did: “I am just a regular person and I think anybody could have done what I did if they had been placed in the same situation.” Mr Shaw, you are so much more than a regular person: you are the stuff of legends. Walt Ehmer, the President and CEO of Waffle House, said it best:  “You don’t get to meet many heroes in life, but Mr. Shaw, you are my hero. I have talked to some of the people you saved that day and they will think of you for the rest of their days, as I will. We are forever in your debt.”

But thankfully, the story does not end there. Yashir Ali, a freelance journalist, started a GoFundMe account to honor Mr. Shaw: “I normally don’t get involved directly in these matters, but James’ grace has inspired me to start this account to give him the support I feel he deserves.”  Thousands have also responded to this effort and raised almost $200,000 for Shaw and his family. One donor wrote: “James Shaw is the face of courage and humility.” Shaw is a graduate of Tennessee State University and an employee of AT&T. He said he intends to use the funds to send his 4 year old daughter to college.  However, he first paid for the funerals of the four victims of the Waffle House shooting from the money raised for him.

The compassion shown by those like Yashir Ali, who reached out to help him and the other victims of this tragedy,  also shows why Alexis de Tocqueville observed 200 years ago: “America is great because she is good.” It is not our wealth, or the strength of our magnificent military; it is the decency of our people that makes us special. — Jim

James Shaw, Jr. hailed as hero by President for wrestling gun away
from Waffle House shooter

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