James Shaw Jr.‘s well-deserved moment in the American spotlight continued Wednesday, as the man now referred to as “The Waffle House Hero” got the opportunity to meet his hero — future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade.
The 29-year-old visited Ellen DeGeneres’ syndicated talk show to discuss the harrowing experience of being at an Antioch, Tenn., Waffle House on April 22 when a man entered the restaurant with an AR-15 rifle and opened fire, killing four patrons and injuring several others. The only reason more people weren’t shot: Shaw reportedly rushed the gunman while he reloaded, “grabbed the gun’s barrel, pulled it away and threw it over the Waffle House counter,” suffering a gunshot wound and second-degree burns on his right hand from the weapon’s barrel while disarming the shooter, later identified by police as 29-year-old Travis Reinking.
“I had a voice in my head saying, ‘Do it now, do it now,'” Shaw told DeGeneres on Wednesday’s show. “And I took the opportunity.”
Shaw told DeGeneres that while he doesn’t mind being celebrated as a hero for his actions, he mostly just wants people to know that a “regular guy did it,” and that they’re capable of the same sorts of remarkable acts in chaotic situations. (Shaw has worked to raise money for the families of the victims of the shooting, starting a GoFundMe that has raised more than $215,000 to go toward covering funeral costs for those who lost their lives.) But while Shaw might see himself as just “a regular guy,” Ellen had a surprise guest waiting in the wings eager to praise him as exceptional:
Shaw enjoyed his invitation to a Nashville Predators playoff game earlier this week, but he told DeGeneres that his favorite thing — outside of his four-year-old daughter Brooklyn — is basketball, and that his favorite player is Dwyane Wade. Asked why, Shaw answered, “I like the way he carries himself off the court.” To which DeGeneres responded, “Well, let’s see how he carries himself out here,” inviting the Miami heat legend onto the set to surprise Shaw, embrace him, and sit down for a chat.
DeGeneres said that Wade, whose season ended last week when the Philadelphia 76ers eliminated the Heat in five games, “dropped everything” to fly to town and appear on the show when he heard that Shaw was a fan.
“When you get an opportunity to sit across from someone, they say, ‘What would you say to him?'” Wade said. “And I look at you — and I know you don’t want to be called a hero — but I look at you as an American hero. I would sit across from you, as I am now, and say obviously how brave you are, but for me, when I sit down with my kids, and I sit down and talk to them about role models, who I want them to look up to, I would tell them to go look up to James Shaw Jr. So, thank you.”
Wade — whose return to Miami at February’s trade deadline came just before the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and who worked to pay tribute to the fallen students there and engage with the survivors after that tragedy — asked Shaw what he hoped would come of his experience at the Waffle House and its aftermath.
“It’s a public health problem that we have,” Shaw said. “It’s a mental health problem that the United States as a whole has. One in five individuals in the United States suffer from some kind of mental disorder. That’s close to, like, 45 million people. So that’s a very large and eye-raising problem. So I want to bring some kind of awareness to it. I have a four-year-old daughter. I don’t want her to live in this world, as she matriculates and gets older … I just don’t want her to live with that problem. If I can help that problem, then I think that’s what I should do.”
In recognition of Shaw’s heroism, DeGeneres’ sponsors made a contribution to an existing GoFundMe founded on Shaw’s behalf and presented him with a check for $225,000. Wade added to the total, contributing an additional $20,000 on the spot.
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