'Waffle House Hero' James Shaw Jr. Tells Ellen He Wants to Spread Mental Health Awareness

On Wednesday, James Shaw Jr. — also known as the “Waffle House hero” — appeared on “The Ellen Show” to talk about what happened on April 22 at a Waffle House near downtown Nashville, where Shaw confronted and disarmed a man who open-fired at the restaurant.

Four people were killed and four people were wounded that Sunday morning. Officials say Shaw’s actions prevented more lives from being lost.

Ellen Degeneres surprised Shaw by bringing his favorite basketball player, Dwayne Wade, on the show. When Wade asked Shaw what he was hoping to get from everything that has happened since the shooting, Shaw said he hoped to spread awareness about mental health.

“It’s a public health problem that we have,” he said. “It’s a mental health problem that the United States as a whole has.”

He cited that one out of five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness.

The man who open-fired at the Waffle House had both a history of experiencing delusions and access to firearms. Although he was prohibited from possessing guns after multiple incidents, his father could face charges for handing him back his weapons, including the one that was used in the shooting, CNN reported.

In general, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence than violent themselves. Factors like a history of violent victimization early in life, substance abuse and exposure to violence are more predictive indicators of who becomes violent. This makes talking about mental health after a mass shooting tricky — balancing the fact that not enough people have access to adequate support while avoiding scapegoating mental illness itself.

Jeff Fladen, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of The National Alliance on Mental Illness, told The Mighty the shooting caused his organization to redouble its mental illness awareness efforts. It’s launching a program called “Ending the Silence,” which will allow young adults living with mental illness and their family members to give presentations to students in Tennessee schools.

Shaw told Ellen his 4-year-old daughter inspires him to make mental health awareness a priority. “I don’t want her to live in this world, as she matriculates and gets older, I don’t want her to live with that problem,” he said.

On top of his efforts to spread mental health awareness, Shaw also created a GoFundMe to raise money for the families of those who were killed or hurt at The Waffle House. The fundraiser has already raised over $220,000.

Lead photo via EllenTude

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