Family members of Waffle House shooting victims share stories of grief, loss

Posted at 5:46 PM, Feb 05, 2022

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The family members of the four people killed in the 2018 Waffle House shooting had the opportunity to share in court how their lives have been impacted by Travis Reinking.

Reinking was convicted on all 16 counts relating to the shooting, including the first-degree murder of Joe Perez Jr., Taurean Sanderlin, Akilah Dasilva and DeEbony Groves.

Before deciding his sentence, a jury of 12 people heard from multiple family members of the victims.

Joe Perez Jr.

Joe Perez

Joe Perez Jr. had recently moved to Nashville from Texas to help with his brother's business. He stopped at the Waffle House after getting a flat tire. The 20-year-old was the youngest victim. He was outside the Waffle House when the gunman began shooting and was the first person killed.

Watch below: The mother of Joe Perez Jr., Patricia Perez testifies in court.

Patricia Perez testifies in court on impact of son’s death

In her emotional testimony, his mother Patricia Perez shared how the whole family was preparing to make the move to Nashville after her son Christian opened a new business.

"Our lives were completely destroyed," she said. "This man took away my future grandchildren, he took away an uncle to my granddaughters and to any other future grandchildren I may have."

She shared she has been hospitalized to receive mental health treatment.

"This has broken me. Not just my spirit, not just my family, but also my mind," Patricia told the court.

Patricia said in the aftermath of losing her son, Christian closed his business and moved home.

"My son Christian blames himself for bringing his brother to Nashville. He thinks that if he would've waited like I asked that none of this would have happened," she said.

Patricia said her oldest son Cruz has gotten his EMT certification and is working toward becoming a paramedic.

"[Cruz] said with every life that he saves, is in dedication for his brother, since his brother's life could not be saved. " Patricia said.

Watch below: Joe Perez Sr. testifies in court.

Joe Perez Sr. testifies in court on impact of son’s death

Joe Perez Sr. spoke about how this family has been devastated by the shooting.

"[Patricia has] gone through a lot of pain — she really has. I have been there with her the whole time. She's been, like she said, in the hospital, a couple of times, not just once. I've been hard on myself also. I'm trying to keep everything afloat while she’s been getting help. It's been really mentally strainful for me. I try not to show, to keep my other sons strong so they don’t see me break down," Joe Perez Sr. said.

Joe Sr. spoke about missing his son, who the family called Joey, recounting memories of Joey asking him for help and loving his barbecue.

He ended his testimony by speaking on his love for his children and discussing how close they are.

Taurean Sanderlin

Taurean Sanderlin
Taurean Sanderlin

Taurean Sanderlin was a Waffle House employee. He was 29 years old when he died. Video introduced during the trial showed Sanderlin outside the restaurant when the gunman opens fire. He's seen charging at the gunman in what appeared to be an attempt to stop the gunman.

Watch below: Blanch Anderson, Taurean Sanderlin's aunt, testifies in court.

Blanch Anderson testifies in court on impact of nephew's death

Blanch Anderson, the aunt of Taurean Sanderlin, spoke on behalf of his parents Wanda and Charles, who were too emotionally distressed to speak.

"Wanda has had so much stress – she breaks out in all these big whelps on her body. The doctor said it's stress and her nerves, they got her under so much medication trying to control it," Anderson said. "I know for myself, I can't sleep. Any time I would go to sleep, I would dream about Taurean; I would dream we were talking and we do things together. I wake up sometimes crying, so I quit going to sleep."

Anderson remembered her nephew as a warm, happy person.

"He never greeted me without giving me a big hug, saying, 'hey auntie!'" Anderson recounted.

While smiling at an image of several photos of Sanderlin, Anderson talked about his love for cooking and animals.

"Taurean was a very happy person, but he was a quiet person. His dad is big, so he's big, but he was a gentle — oh he loved animals, he loved dogs. He left behind a dog, Rocco," she said. "He loved his work, he enjoyed his work. He just loved it, yes."

Anderson said Sanderlin had dreams of opening up his own restaurant one day.

Watch below: William Bryson Murray, Taurean Sanderlin's cousin, testifies in court.

William Bryson Murray provides witness impact statement

At the time of the shooting, Sanderlin lived with his cousin William Bryson Murray, and Murray's 4-year-old son.

Murray said he and Sanderlin lived close to the Waffle House. He said the two believed that Waffle House location was safer, in a better location and would provide the opportunity to make more money.

The night before the shooting, Murray and Sanderlin went to a comedy show at Bridgestone Arena. Murray said they joked about Sanderlin calling out of work.

Recalling the hours after the shooting, Murray said he had 40 missed calls and missed texts from friends about something happening about the Waffle House. He called Taurean multiple times but turned on the news when he didn’t get an answer.

Murray went to the Waffle House and he saw a body on the ground, and then someone at the restaurant told him that Sanderlin had died. He said he had to tell Sanderlin's parents that his body was still at Waffle House, but they couldn't process the reality of it.

Akilah Dasilva

Akilah DaSilva Laid To Rest
Akilah DaSilva

Akilah was inside the restaurant with his girlfriend Shantia Waggoner and brother Abede Dasilva. He was taken to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, where he later died. Waggoner was severely injured by the shooting, which has impacted her ability to walk years later.

Watch below: Shaundelle Brooks testifies in court.

Shaundelle Brooks speaks on impact of son’s death

During her emotional testimony, Shaundelle Brooks, the mother of Akilah Dasilva, spoke on the pain she continues to feel after losing her son.

"Every morning, I wake up with the same thought: my baby is gone," she said. "I didn't lose my son, Akilah, he was taken from me, taken from my family; ripped from us."

The day of the shooting, Brooks said she woke up at 3:40 a.m. and realized her sons hadn't come home. She reached out to Abede, who told her they were at a Waffle House where someone was shooting.

Brooks said she drove to the restaurant, describing the scene as "extremely chaotic."

"I remember thinking, 'what's happening? Where are my sons? Where is Akilah?'" she said.

An ambulance drove up beside her, and the doors opened. Inside, Brooks said she saw Akilah. She called his name three times, and she knew something was wrong. She begged God that Akilah would eventually respond.

"It's the stuff you see in a nightmare. No parent should have to bury their child, but I did," she said.

In the aftermath of losing her son in a mass shooting, Brooks said that she has dedicated her life to preventing gun violence.  

Watch below: Abede Dasilva testifies in court.

Abede Dasilva testifies on surviving Waffle House shooting, losing his brother

Abede spoke on how he continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder after living through the mass murder.

"I see it every day. I relive it every day. I try to block it out but I can’t. My brother, he wouldn’t even get his ears pierced because of the pain. So to know that he had to go through pain in those last moments... I see it every day how he looked that night. Reliving it every day just tears me apart," Abede said.

Abede witnessed his brother's last words after being shot in the lung, "I can't breathe."

"It hurts the fact to know that he died, and I didn’t," Abede said. "I just will never understand. I don’t understand the significance of this. He didn’t deserve it. I think that’s what most affects us the most."

Throughout the trial, Abede, his two other siblings and their mother have worn baby blue — Akilah's favorite color.

"It’s changed every last one of us — my mom, my siblings, me. It changed us as a person," Abede said.

DeEbony Groves

DeEbony Groves

DeEbony Groves was a 21-year-old from Gallatin. She was in her last year at Belmont, majoring in social work. DeEbony was inside the restaurant when she was killed.

Watch below: Di'Angelo Groves testifies in court.

Di’Angelo Groves reads victim impact statement

DeEbony's brother Di'Angelo spoke about his family's tradition to go to an amusement park on his birthday every year, but after she died, he's lost his forever riding buddy, his co-pilot.

"It just literally felt like somebody took a vacuum and sucked the life out of me. It was literally like I had lost a piece of me," Di'Angelo said. "I didn't realize just how intertwined our lives really were until after she passed."

Di'Angelo spoke on how the first Thanksgiving his family celebrated after the shooting, he struggled to think of anything he was thankful for.

Watch below: Albert Groves testifies in court.

Albert Groves, father of DeEbony Groves, reads victim impact statement

Albert Groves, DeEbony's father, described his daughter as loving, bright and talented.

"She was born June 16, 1996. For those who don't know, that was Father's Day. So, I had a double blessing that day," Albert said, as he described DeEbony as daddy's little girl.

Albert remembered the bond he had with his daughter, saying he was just like her, except a girl.

"She think like me, she act like me, she just had my ways," Albert recalled. "When she was older, I would always call her my little mini-me. That's how close we were."

Albert spoke about the devastation he and his family have felt after her death.

"My mom, my dad, her uncles, her aunts — they're devastated. When she passed away, my mom wasn’t able to make it to the funeral — that hurt everyone. She couldn’t make it," Albert said. "Her great uncles and great aunts are devastated, someone with so much potential... we worked hard to educate. She got a scholarship to Belmont, was about to graduate, everything was great."

Watch below: Shirl Groves Baker testifies in court.

Shirl Groves Baker, mother of DeEbony Groves, reads victim impact statement

DeEbony's mother Shirl Groves Baker told the jury all of her dreams for DeEbony "just disintegrated into the air" the day she was killed.

Baker testified that she continues to struggle with losing her daughter. She visits her daughter's grave weekly.

"I struggle even taking a picture because those that know my daughter know she was a photo queen," Baker said. "I go around and speak and women's events on her behalf, and every time I pose for a picture, I cry. What do I have to smile about? She should be here."

Baker said while her family is still close, it feels like a piece of the puzzle is missing.

"We tried to bring it together. We still have family dinners and family outings. We still check on each other, encourage each other. When deep down inside, that one special, significant piece will never be able to complete our puzzle," Baker testified.