Digging deeper: How can we stay safe in the aftermath of violence such as the Orlando shooting?

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – NewsChannel 6 is taking a deeper look into the atrocity in Orlando, the latest violent incident that forces us all to wonder, how safe are we? How safe is America?

In this special report, we examine terrorist attacks in America and the rise in hate crimes. By watching the video in this story, you’ll hear from an FBI agent, a terrorism expert from Augusta University, and a local mother who lost her son in a mass shooting. We break down the community’s response through FBI safety workshops and blood drives, and how we can help.

Our guests for this special report are:

  • Letitie Clark. Her son Ryan was killed in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.
  • Dr. Craig Albert, political scientist and terrorism expert from Augusta University
  • Pat Patterson, LGBTQ advocate and entertainer
  • Spc. Agent Ted Socha, FBI Situational Awareness Symposium

“He stared at me – I guess he thought I died with my eyes open so I just kept staring at him.”

Chilling recounts of the events of early Sunday morning, as survivors share their stories. All while police continue to investigate what caused Omar Mateen to open fire inside Pulse nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people, and wounding dozens more. Investigators are combing through the killer’s personal life for clues.  And now, they’re questioning his wife about whether she knew about his plan, and why she didn’t call law enforcement.

It comes as no surprise that Sunday’s massacre has reignited the polarizing debate over guns in America. President Obama immediately cited the shooting to argue for more control over guns and gun dealers. But a local gun dealer says sales of firearms always go up after shootings, though he agrees the shooter should never have had access to a gun in the first place. He says more gun laws wouldn’t have prevented the shooting.

Howard Hensley explains, “Everyone that comes in here and receives a firearm goes through a background check. The FBI has investigated this guy two or three times because he’s a possible threat and he’s approved Johnny on the Spot? So, there’s something wrong with our system. Give the FBI more power where they can investigate these people and put a hold on them.”

The presumptive presidential nominees were quick to react.

Hillary Clinton saying, “If the FBI is watching you for suspected terror links you shouldn’t be able to buy a gun no questions asked.”

Donald Trump, weighing in about guns: “If you had some guns in that club the night this took place, if you had guns on the other side you wouldn’t have had the tragedy that took place.”

This country has witnessed tragedy after tragedy involving guns, racism, sexual orientation, and terrorism. We felt it after the church shooting in Charleston one year ago…  then again after the San Bernadino shooting. But before those killings, we grieved the 13 lives lost at Columbine High School… the loss of 20 little children, and 6 adults, at Sandy Hook Elementary School…  the 32 lives violently cut short in the Virginia Tech shooting.

And that one hit close to home.

Ryan Clark, from Martinez, was killed that day: April 16, 2007. He was a senior with a 4.0 GPA, he was majoring in biology and English… and was a member of the Marching Virginians college band.

Letitie Clark knows what it’s like to get the dreaded news that a loved one has been involved in a mass shooting… she got it about her son, Ryan.

She says every time she hears about a mass shooting in the news, it opens the floodgates of emotion. But she is speaking out because she understands how those victims’ families are feeling.

“If one person feels less pain by my words or deeds I am blessed,” Letitie explains.

One way she honors her son’s memory is through a scholarship in his name.CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS ABOUT THE RYAN CLARK SCHOLARSHIP

President Obama responds to critics who say he’s not facing the real issue, which many believe is Islamic extremism. An expert on terrorism weighs in, when we come back.

President Obama addressed the nation from the White House Sunday…  in the aftermath of the largest deadly mass shooting in US history.

It was the 15th time he’s done that after a mass shooting.

“We have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be, to actively do nothing is a decision too.”

So far, the president has stopped short of calling the shooting radical Islamic terrorism. But a local authority on the subject says -these- are the kinds of attacks we can expect to see more of.

Dr. Craig Albert is an expert in foreign affairs. A political scientist at Augusta University, his research focuses on Islamic extremism and the rise of ISIS.

He addressed the divide in our country, as some call the gun control issue (after shootings like this) a distraction, believing the underlying problem here is Islamic terrorism. Dr. Albert also describes how ISIS targets recruits and quickly radicalizes people.

“ISIS heavily recruits online, looking through social media for disenfranchised Muslims living in the West already,” Albert said.

“They look for alienated Muslims, people who feel oppressed or repressed by the government that they live in, and those who may already have criminal tendencies, among other traits.”

The Orlando massacre happened in a gay nightclub, Pulse. Some consider it a hate crime against the LGBT community. Just last year, an Augusta church was the target of hate crimes

“It’s God’s house and you shouldn’t do that. This clearly is a hate crime. Based on the saying we will burn and the scripture they are referencing.”

July 2015:  vandals hit the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer -twice- in two weeks. From a stolen rainbow flag and broken flag pole…  to spray-painted graffiti across the front of the building and all over the front steps… the story got national attention.

Rev. Rick Sosbe is the pastor there.

“Whoever did this, there is just darkness in their hearts, there’s fear possibly as well and ignorance about what the Bible really says and about who we are as God’s people.”

Sosbe got support messages from around the world and raised enough money to pay for a dozen security cameras around the church.

Pat Patterson is a leader in the LGBT community, former president of the South Carolina Gay and Lesbian Business Guild, and he’s a popular performer in gay nightclubs around the southeast, who performs by the stage name, Patti O’Furniture.

He talked to us about this increased perception of being targeted in the gay community. We also asked him about safety in gay clubs, and at upcoming Pride Week events.

Patterson encourages people to support and participate in Pride Week, both straight and gay people. He says it’s important to live your truth, otherwise, hate and fear win.  CLICK HERE FOR AUGUSTA PRIDE WEEK ACTIVITIES.

Pat Patterson, thank you for sharing your insights… and your advice to those who may feel extremely threatened right now.

Up next– the FBI is working with groups around the Palmetto State to raise awareness about potential threats to public safety. A special agent joins us to explain, after this quick break.

One year ago, the unimaginable happened in a church in Charleston, when Dylan Roof opened fire in a prayer meeting, killing 9 people.

After that horrific event, the FBI began hosting Situational Awareness Symposiums to help lower fear and anxiety. They’ve taken place in churches, mosques, and community centers.

Special Agent Ted Socha, with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in South Carolina joins the conservation now… and Agent Socha, the idea here is to share lessons from past active shooter situations with the faith-based community, but these scenarios can be applied in other places as well.

Another Situational Awareness Symposium is coming up next week. People of all faiths are welcome. It’s taking place Monday, June 20th from 7pm – 9pm at LowCountry Community Church in Bluffton, SC.CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT FBI SERVICES.

Many of you are wondering how you can help… and we’ve got a couple of suggestions.

First: climb on the bloodmobile. The Shepeard Community Blood Center has sent many units of blood and plasma to the victims in Orlando. WJBF is hosting a blood drive this Friday here at Television Park. You can drop by between 11am & 5pm and roll up your sleeve.

Another way you can help is to donate money. Equality Florida has set up a GoFundMe page to support the Orlando victims. The money raised will go directly toward medical bills, funeral expenses, and other bills victims and their families will incur because of the shooting.  CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

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