In April 2018, a man opened fire in a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee. He killed four people before being taken down by hero James Shaw Jr., who seized the opportunity to grab the weapon and wrestle it away from him. He threw it over the counter and likely saved many more lives, as ABC 13 reported at the time.
The survivors have been fielding interviews and recovering from the trauma of the terrifying experience. One survivor, Michael Garth Sr., believed that he narrowly escaped death because of a serendipitous request from a waitress working at the Waffle House that night.
According to CBS 21, Garth had been sitting at the restaurant counter with his friend, when a woman working there asked them to move to a table. She was washing dishes and didn't want to splash them.
He is certain that if he'd been sitting at that counter, he would have been in the line of fire. He told his mother, Vicki Davis, about the experience and she decided to track the waitress down to thank her for protecting her son, whether she meant to or not.
Davis did find the waitress, and discovered she was soon to be married. As a thank you, Davis decided to get her a wedding dress.
Here she is wearing it:
Davis did not pay for the dress out of pocket; she reached out to a business called Glitz Bridal, to see if they would be willing to donate it.
Every year, the company gives away a dress to a veteran or a first responder, but decided this year to make an exception for the waitress.
“She was the angel that helped save my son’s life, so I don’t have an option but to try to bless her in any which way I can," said Davis.
“She went the extra mile. She didn’t know, or maybe the Lord had shown her to tell my son to move his seat, but she was the angel that helped save my son’s life, so I don’t have an option but to try to bless her in any which way that I can.
“I thank her for helping save my son’s life, and that I’m here to help her in any way that I can, because she is not going to walk this walk alone, I’m here to help her.”
Garth also recounted the event several days after it occurred in a statement, saying how he was initially frustrated for being asked to move, but believes it was just one step in a series of moments that saved his life.
He writes that he waited to tell his mother about it until she returned from vacation, because he didn't want to ruin it for her:
"It's been 4 days since my life was spared in the terrible events at the Waffle House in Antioch, TN. I chose not to share my story on my page until I was able to talk to my mother as she was on Vacation for her anniversary in Aruba. She was aware of the event, but I chose not to inform her of my involvement until her return in an effort to let her enjoy her trip.
"I was able to speak to her tonight as she visited me on her way home from the airport. I was finally able to hold my mother as I cried in her arms as she prayed over me and thanked the Lord for sparing my life. There is nothing stronger than a praying mother.
"First I would like to thank the Lord for the series of events that led to my life being spared that night.
"Upon arriving at the restaurant we attempted to sit at the bar to eat but were informed by the waitress that she was washing dishes and did not want water splashing on us. Tho we [were] slightly frustrated, we decided to sit at the booth near the bathrooms.
"I believe this was nothing but the 1st step in the hand of God leading us out of harm's way. We decided to sit along the wall near the bathrooms, another decision that changed our fate. Shortly after returning to my vehicle to get my cell phone while enjoying my meal, shots rang out."
At first, Garth says he and his friend hid under a table, thinking there was a conflict outside the restaurant that would soon pass, like a drive-by shooting. But the sound of gunfire kept getting closer.
Because of their proximity to the bathrooms, they crawled towards them to try and get inside, but they were locked, as was the kitchen door. He says he never saw Shaw take down the shooter.
"I never saw Shaw or the shooter as I was begging to get into the bathroom to no avail. My friend and I were eventually let into the kitchen area after I believe the shooter fled the scene. There we waited on the police as we feared the shooter was still on the premises waiting to strike again.
"When police arrived we fled in fear the shooter would return and gave one of the workers who was distraught a ride home. I am still struggling with the events of that night and have talked to my VA representative for help.
"Today, accompanied by my oldest daughter who will be graduating high school Friday, I returned to the location of the tragedy in an effort to help me cope with this tragic event.
"With lots of prayers from myself, my family and friends I know I will overcome this adversity. Continue to support, donate and pray for the victims, survivors, and first responders who will have to cope with this tragedy for the rest of our lives."
Garth was hoping to get in contact with Shaw, to thank him for saving everyone that night; but he also wanted to thank the woman who had put him out of harm's way without knowing it.
Shaw's courage saved many people that day, but Garth's story show how even small acts can have a rippled effect on people.
Though she had no idea what her request would lead to, it has created a beautiful connection between Garth's family and hers, which will be seen by all as she walks down the aisle.