Belmont student witnesses Cook Out shooting

It was a typical late Saturday night for freshman Megan Watts and her friends at an off-campus apartment — watching movies, talking, having a great time.

“We were just hanging out, and I was like, ‘I wanna get a milkshake,’” Watts said.

Watts and two other friends arrived at Cook Out–a popular late-night destination for college students across the Metro area–around 3 a.m. Sunday.

The restaurant, located between 18th and 19th streets on West End Avenue, was packed with Tennessee State University students – every table filled and a long line at the counter, Watts said.

Watts was sitting with her friends when she noticed a man in a white-and-gold pantsuit, who Metro Nashville Police later identified as Murray Gross, 25, of Memphis, Tenn.

Minutes after noticing Gross, Watts and her friends saw two other men starting to throw punches in the back of the restaurant.

“They started punching each other, then all of the sudden one guy, his face turned pale and he ran the other way around us to the front of the building,” Watts said.

The other man ran around the other side of the dining room towards the front of the store, chasing the first man.

“Before he got to the door, that was when we heard the first gunshot,” Watts said.

People were screaming, running out of the restaurant, hiding in the bathrooms and crouching under tables.

Gross fled with the gunman in pursuit and was shot and killed moments later.

Unaware of exactly what was occurring outside, Watts said it was not until the second shot in the restaurant that she finally ducked under the table.

“I was in complete shock and didn’t know what it was,” Watts said. “My first thought was that we were getting bombed, so I thought, ‘If you are getting bombed, why are we getting under the table?’”

After not hearing any more gunshots in the restaurant, Watts and her friend went to the front of the restaurant, where they saw one man lying by the door, unmoving, with pools of blood forming on the marble floor.

The man was later identified by police as Ryan Weaver, 19, of Cordova, Tenn.

“People were using Cook Out napkins and paper towels that they could find to clean it up and put on his wounds,” Watts said.

“I was standing over him and praying. ‘If there is any life in him please save him, Lord.’”

Police were there within minutes, Watts said.

According to Metro police, the gunman specifically targeted Gross and Weaver and still remains at large.

The three friends returned to the apartment, but none of them could sleep. Instead, they went to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center emergency room to check on Weaver’s progress.

None of the girls knew who he was before that night.

“We went because we wanted peace of mind, knowing if Ryan was going to be OK or not.”

They sat silently in the packed waiting room listening for word on his progress. Eventually, they found out Weaver would have surgery but would likely pull through.

“That was honestly one of the most comforting things to hear. This guy who I thought was dead was going to be OK.”

Watts said she is still struggling with the situation but is doing her best to keep her mind off the incident by hanging out with friends and throwing herself into her work and studies.

“I feel like it didn’t really happen. That it was almost a dream,” Watts said.

At the recommendation of her RA, Watts said she is scheduling appointments with Belmont Counseling Services to help her work through her feelings.

“It was off and on. I would be OK, then I would be crying, then I would be OK,” Watts said.

The most powerful and comforting aspect of the ordeal to Watts was that Weaver, who she saw virtually lifeless in a pool of his own blood, would pull through.

“I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer, and that this guy who I sat over and prayed over was going to be OK was so comforting.”

Watts said she did not get a good look at the shooter and has not talked with police yet.

Police are urging anyone with information on the gunman’s identity or the case to contact Crime Stoppers at 615-742-7463 or Midtown Hills Investigations at 615-880-1817.

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