Waffle House shooting suspect thought Taylor Swift was stalking him
When Travis Reinking breached a White House security barrier in July, police say, he had a very specific request: He wanted to meet with President Donald Trump.
Reinking, who was taken into custody Monday afternoon, told a Secret Service officer at the northeast entrance that he was a “sovereign citizen” who had a “right to inspect the grounds,” according to a Metropolitan Police Department incident report dated July 7, 2017.
The report does not say if Reinking was referring to the anti-government extremist movement of the same name. But the 29-year-old’s previous encounters with law enforcement are coming under fresh scrutiny after he was named a suspect in a deadly Sunday morning shooting at a Tennessee Waffle House.
Reinking’s brush with law enforcement in the nation’s capital was not his first. Documents obtained by CNN affiliate WBBM from the sheriff’s office in Tazewell County, Illinois, suggest a troubling pattern involving guns and what one police report described as “delusional” behavior.
“Travis is hostile toward police and does not recognize police authority. Travis also possesses several firearms,” an officer said in a May 2016 incident report. At the time, Reinking’s parents had called emergency services to report their son believed pop star Taylor Swift was stalking him, and he had made comments about killing himself.
Most recently, police said, he visited a car dealership in the Nashville suburb of Brentwood last week and somehow obtained a key fob for a BMW without providing identification. He stole the car and led police on a brief chase, the department said.
Using the car’s GPS, officers tracked the car to Reinking’s apartment complex and recovered it. No one was arrested at the time because they didn’t know the thief’s identity, the department said.
Guns seized, then returned to suspect
Reinking moved to Nashville in fall 2017 and worked in construction, Nashville police said. He was fired from one job in early April and had just started with another construction company April 16, but did not return for his second day of work.
At the time of the White House incident, Reinking lived in an apartment above his father’s business, a crane rental company in Tremont, Illinois, according to the sheriff’s office incident reports. After his arrest at the White House for trespassing and being in a restricted area, the FBI and the Secret Service coordinated with local law enforcement to investigate Reinking and take away his guns, Matthew Espenshade, assistant special agent in charge of FBI’s Nashville office said Sunday.
On August 24, the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office seized four firearms and ammunition from Reinking’s apartment along with his state firearm owners identification, according to an incident report. The seizure came less than two weeks after a Tazewell County sergeant said that Reinking drove up to his squad car and asked about filing a report.
Reinking told the sergeant that people were “tapping into his computer and phone” and barking like dogs outside his home, according to an August 11 incident report. He said he felt like he was being watched and that people were baiting him into breaking the law, the report states. He told the officer that it all started after he began writing to Taylor Swift, according to the report.
Officers released the firearms and ammo to Reinking’s father, Jeffrey, the report states. Investigators now believe he returned the guns to his son. Of those four weapons, one was the AR-15 style weapon recovered from the shooting scene at Waffle House; two more long guns were taken from Reinking’s apartment, police said.
One more gun may remain in Reinking’s possession, police said before his Monday arrest.
A history of ‘mental problems’
Less than a month before his arrest at the White House, Reinking crossed paths with law enforcement in Illinois.
On June 16, 2017, an employee of his father’s business, J&J Cranes, called the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office to report that Reinking came down from his apartment wearing a pink dress and holding a rifle, an incident report states.
The employee told police Reinking yelled “Is this what you f—–g want?” before he threw his rifle in his trunk and left, according to the report.
Around the same time, the Tremont Police Department responded to a call to a public pool, according to another incident report. The pool director told the responding officer that a man in his 20s barged into the pool wearing a pink women’s housecoat, the report states. The man dove into the pool and took off the coat and swam around in his underwear. When he got out of the pool, he shouted at lifeguards that he was a man and exposed his genitals to them, the report states.
The rifle stayed in the vehicle and no one at the pool asked to press charges, the officer said in the report. “This is an informational report showing the state of mind of Travis Reinking,” the report said.
Meanwhile, several members of the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office went to J&J Cranes to speak with Reinking.
“Travis has some mental problems and I asked him if he would like to speak to (the Emergency Response Service) but he stated he didn’t want to,” the officer wrote in the report. “Travis had already spoken to them before and been in the hospital.”
The officer said he also called Reinking’s father, who was out of state. Jeffrey Reinking told the office he had taken three guns from his son before and locked them up “when Travis was having problems,” the report states.
Later in the day, the officer said in his report, “I called back Jeff Reinking and advised him of what happened and when he gets back home he might want to lock the guns back up until Travis gets mental help, which he stated he would.”
‘Delusional’ behavior involving Taylor Swift
It was not the first time Reinking’s mental health came to law enforcement’s attention.
On May 27, 2016, a Tazewell County Sheriff’s deputy met him and his parents in a drug store parking lot after his parents had called for help, according to an incident report.
A paramedic told the responding officer that Reinking was “delusional” and believed that Taylor Swift was harassing him by stalking and hacking his phone, the report states.
“Travis believed everyone including his own family and the police are involved,” the officer said in the report. “Travis stated he did not want to hurt Taylor Swift or anyone else, he only wanted the harassment to stop.”
Reinking told the officer the harassment began a few weeks earlier when Swift hacked his Netflix account and told him to meet her at a Dairy Queen, the report states. He told the officer that when he showed up she ran off and disappeared.
His parents told the officer he made comments about killing himself and that he had access to “many firearms” in his residence.
By then, another officer had arrived to help persuade Reinking to go to a hospital for evaluation. He resisted their efforts, saying he was “free to leave” and that the officers were “violating his constitutional rights.” Finally, after four more officers arrived, Reinking agreed to go, saying it was against his will.
‘He just didn’t seem to be a violent person’
Reinking appears to have made no secret of his obsession with the pop star — or his distrust of the government.
After the Waffle House shooting, a police detective in Salida, Colorado — where Reinking lived from August 2016 to spring 2017 — interviewed Reinking’s former employer at Rocky Mountain Crane.
Co-owner Ken Sustrich told police that Reinking was an excellent crane operator and an intelligent, polite person. He lived alone, did not appear to drink or use drugs, and did not seem to have friends, Sustrich told police.
But Reinking exhibited signs of being paranoid and delusional that manifested in his infatuation with Swift, Det. Sgt. Rob Martellaro noted in a report of his conversation with Sustrich.
Sustrich said Reinking told his coworkers that he bought Swift a $14,000 ring and was going to marry her. But he also said that Swift harassed him.
Another coworker told police that Reinking said Swift was hacking his bank accounts. Rocky Mountain Crane employee John Turley also said that Reinking told him he was gay, which confused everyone because he also said he was going to marry Swift, the police report states.
Turley said he knew Reinking had two rifles and two pistols. He also said he knew he had “mental issues,” according to the report. Reinking disliked the government and the National Rifle Association and he believed he was a sovereign citizen, Turley told police.
But Turley said it was hard for him to believe that Reinking could kill anyone “because he just didn’t seem to be a violent person.” Reinking had played with Turley’s kids, he said, and seemed to be fine with them.
Reinking quit Rocky Mountain Crane in March 2017 because he believed police were following him, his former employer told police. “He claimed it was his last chance to marry Taylor Swift,” the police report said.
After he quit, Sustrich said he called Reinking’s father to raise concerns about his son’s mental health, the report says. He said Jeffrey Reinking told him that he was aware of his son’s mental issues and said he had recently been trying to rekindle his relationship with him.
Who’s to blame?
After the firearms seizure, Reinking was legally prohibited from possessing guns, said Matthew Espenshade, an FBI agent located in Nashville. His father, Jeffrey Reinking, could potentially face charges for transferring weapons to a person knowingly prohibited from possessing them, the ATF said.
Families of people struggling with mental health issues often don’t know where to turn, said lawyer Rachelle Barbour of the Federal Defender’s Office of the Eastern District of California.
“There are no good resources for families in the US who need help managing a beloved adult member who has lost touch with reality,” Barbour said in a statement. “Again and again they wind up in the criminal justice system after repeated attempts from family members to alert authorities and solicit help in dealing with them.”
“Instead of using resources to help, monitor, and treat them before a tragedy occurs, our society will only act once it happens and use our dollars to throw them in prison or pursue the death penalty,” the statement said. “The victims of this shooting did not have to be sacrificed to our lack of appropriate mental health care coupled with our cult of guns.”