NORTH NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — On April 22, 2018, just before 3:30 a.m., a gunman entered a South Nashville Waffle House. He was nude, except for a green trench coat. In his hands was a Bushmaster AR-15. Thirteen people were at the restaurant. In less than 45 seconds, four people were fatally wounded.
23-year-old Akilah DaSilva died from blood loss after he was shot in the arm. His older brother, Abede, narrowly escaped death himself.
The DaSilvas say their lives have changed since Akilah’s death. Their home has not only become a memorial for Akilah but also a haven they rarely leave.
In their living room are items and pictures that remind Shaundelle Brooks of her second eldest son. Blue lights, pillows, and blankets. Blue was Akilah’s favorite color.
“Everywhere I go and the colors are there or anything that says ‘dream ‘or anything like that I pick it up,” Brooks told News 2. “I buy everything. We tend to use it as — I don’t know if it’s healing or something soothing.”
Akilah DaSilva was born on November 17, 1994. He weighed 10 pounds.
“He wasn’t the baby but he was the baby,” said Brooks.
Akilah was a talented musician, often collaborating with his big brother Abede under the stage name “Natrix Dream.”
“We have Akilah and we have Natrix Dream in the same body. Akilah’s quiet and more laid back. Natrix, when he gets on stage, becomes a totally different person.”
He was also a photographer and videographer.
“He left so many footage of everything. Videos and pictures” Brooks said. “I haven’t gone through anything at all yet. I can’t even get on his computer. Everything is so hard to…”
Akilah and Abede had just finished filming a music video on April 21, 2018. They went out to celebrate and then returned to their mom’s house. The best friends decided they were hungry and a Waffle House had just opened near their home.
“We was debating before we even left the house if we even wanted to go Waffle House,” Abede told News 2. “All the way until we got there. We debated on whether we wanted to stay there and when we got in there we debated if we wanted to stay there and before we could even decide if we were going to stay. That’s when it happened.”
At 3:19 a.m., the Metro Nashville Police Department says Travis Reinking parked his pick-up truck outside of the Waffle House. He sat in his vehicle for about three or four minutes.
“We walked right past his truck and didn’t even know it,” said Abede.
Metro Police say Reinking then got out and began shooting.
“I dropped down to the floor, like not laid down, but went down and then I just ran to the right,” recalled Abede. “I mean, ’cause it looked like, the way they was shooting, directly over my head. So it was directly where we was standing, So I’m thinking they’re targeting us. You know we’re right there.”
Abede ran to the bathroom.
“I wasn’t even thinking. I just ran to wherever I could seek cover. When I got in the bathroom, first thing I thought of was, ‘damn I ran in the bathroom, I gotta go get my brother’, you know? But as soon as I was about to run out the bathroom is when there was more shots.”
Another man is in the bathroom with Abede: Brennan McMurry. Brennan’s best friend and Abede’s brother aren’t with them in the bathroom.
Brennan’s friend, James Shaw Jr., wrestles the gun away from the suspect and throws it over the counter. He then forces the gunman out of the restaurant.
When the shots stop, Abede finds his brother bleeding from where he had been shot in the arm.
“I was just telling him it was gonna be OK, he was gonna be OK. And he was just saying how, he was just saying that it hurt, and I’m like ‘it’s OK, I know it hurt, I know it hurt.’ I had like my arm around him. I was like ‘I know it hurts, I know it hurts, I know. It’s OK though. You’re gonna be OK, alright?’
“I’m looking in his eyes and I’m like ‘you’re gonna be ok, alright?’ He looked at me and was like ‘OK, OK’ and I’m like ‘you’re gonna be alright ‘ and I just kept yelling it to him, ‘you’re gonna be OK! I know it hurt, but it’s gonna be OK!’ He was just like ‘OK’ and I was like ‘OK?’ I’m looking at him like, ‘OK’ and he’s like ‘OK.’ I’m just like trying to keep him until they get there.
“I don’t know. I feel like I let him down,” said Abede.
Around 3:30 a.m., Shaundelle texted her sons to see where they are.
“‘All is well?’ That’s usually my text every time. ‘All is well?’ Abede called me back and he said there’s a shooting at the place where we are. I’m like ‘a shooting? Where are you? Where’s your brother?’ Because I’m talking to Abede and I know he’s OK. I’m like ‘where’s your brother?’
“By this point I’m nervous, I’m shaking. I don’t even remember if I had clothes on when I left. Probably just my nightdress. I don’t remember,” Shaundelle said.
She initially went to the wrong Waffle House but then arrived at the correct location. Her son was in an ambulance.
“The ambulance stopped exactly where I was. It just stopped. Then the doors went like this and opened. I looked inside and he was laying there. I saw his shoes and he was laying there. And I’m like ‘Akilah, Akilah.’ No answer, he didn’t respond. And I’m saying, ‘well if they said it was just his arm why is he not responding?'”
Shaundelle followed the ambulance to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. A nurse tells her Akilah is in critical condition and leaves. Then, the nurse returns and takes Shaundelle into a back room.
“We got in the room and she said he didn’t make it. That was the worst thing ever. The worst thing you could say to me. It was my whole world exploded. I couldn’t believe it. I said ‘are you sure?’ I kept saying and I’m holding her face like this, I remember. And I’m like ‘please tell me that’s not what you’re saying.’ And she was just trying to comfort me and comfort us but that was a nightmare. It still is.
“Then we had to go choose the casket and stuff that I’ve never done in my entire life, not even for my mom or my first husband,” she said. “It was different to watch him laying there. I just felt like I wanted to pick him up because he was not supposed to be there. That was not supposed to be him. I didn’t wanna see my child laying there. And I touched his face. I was just touching him then I just leaned over and spoke to him. I was just talking to him the entire time.”
Akilah has left hundreds of hours of videos that Shaundelle says she can’t bring herself to look at. However, she does feel comfort surrounding herself with his photos.
“I talk to his picture. I constantly talk to him. That’s to keep me sane, you know? I’m like, ‘Akilah, what happened baby? Mommy don’t understand.’ I still don’t understand what happened. I don’t think I want to understand why he’s not here. Because I want him here. Yesterday I was saying, I can’t understand why heaven thinks they need you more than I do.”
While Shaw and McMurry see their presence at the Waffle House as their destiny, the DaSilvas do not see it that way. Shaw and McMurry went to church after the shooting but the DaSilvas no longer attend.
“I went to church every Sunday. I prayed all the time. I prayed for my kids like I’ve never prayed for anyone else,” said Shaundelle. “I don’t think there’s anything that anyone can tell me to make me believe you have to live a certain way or do certain things because we did it. I don’t see how he deserves anything like this.”
The family says they’ve changed since losing Akilah, including his little sister.
“I feel like we’re all just trying to figure out how to deal with it. We’ve never been through anything like this before,” she said. “I feel like we all changed. Everybody stays at home now, we’re reserved, we don’t really like to go out and do things. Because you just never know when you leave the house one day if you’re gonna make it back home. So home is the best place to be.”
“It’s hard to go outside and sit. Sit in a restaurant. I’m constantly peeking over my shoulders. You hear loud noises, you’re constantly thinking. So I can’t imagine what Abede’s feeling ’cause he was there,” said Shaundelle.
“For me, it’s more like going out late night and going to eat. I can’t do that. Going to Waffle House, I can’t do that,” said Abede. “And it feels like you’re just stuck in the same place on April 22nd of last year. But you have no choice but to go on and you see people moving on about their life and acting regular and I’m just like my brother’s not here anymore.
“I used to wish that I died with him. But now I just wish he was here you know? Yea, cause I’m like if I did die then it would’ve been harder for my family. It would’ve been harder for my mother, harder to push his music, the vision that we had. Nobody really knows our vision but us. I’m thankful that I’m here to be pushing his music. And I know for a fact, it sounds cliche, but I know for a fact that he would want me to do that.”
Exactly one year before he died, Akilah uploaded the song “Prophet” to YouTube, where he raps against gun violence.
Abede continues to push his brother’s music and his own. He wrote the song “Broken” about losing Akilah and about the accused shooter Travis Reinking.
“‘You took my brother’s life, I gotta grudge for you’ is one of the lyrics that resonate with me. People say don’t hold grudges but it’s easier said than done,” said Abede. “I want the death penalty. I want him to die. I’m not even gonna lie. Going to jail, that’s not enough for me. It’s just like his family can still go visit him, his mom can still go see him they can still talk to him. When we went to court, you could see in his face that he was concerned about his family. And my brother can’t do that.”
“He didn’t know Akilah’s purpose. Obviously not. He didn’t know how much we value him and how much his life matters because if he did, he wouldn’t have done what he did,” said Shaundelle.
His mother points out that Akilah didn’t drink and drive that night, didn’t have a weapon and he had a video game paused on his TV and a music project open on his computer. He wanted to live. He died trying to get breakfast.
“It just makes you feel angry sometimes. Sometimes I can’t look at his picture and I’m mad, I’m angry, ’cause you know God? Why did you allow this to happen to him?'”
Shaundelle says Akilah continues to visit her in her dreams.
The DaSilvas have started to campaign for stricter gun laws and have established the Akilah DaSilva Foundation with help victims of gun violence.
There is security footage of the shooting that will be shown at Travis Reinking’s trial. A date for that trial has not yet been set.