South Georgia reacts to California bar shooting

Derrek Vaughn | The Valdosta Daily TimesValdosta State University student James McCanney said he will be a little more cautious when he goes out following the college nightclub shooting in California.

VALDOSTA — James McCanney felt helpless after he heard about the latest mass shooting.

He was reacting to the news a former Marine dressed all in black opened fire on a crowd of people inside of a Southern California college bar late Wednesday night. The shooter, a Ventura County sheriff's deputy and 11 others were among the dead when the shooting ended.

At Valdosta State University, McCanney, a mass media student, recently started exploring the bar scene after he turned 21 and said he was shocked when he first heard about the shooting.

"It's just another in a long line of deeply tragic events in this country," McCanney said. "It makes me feel helpless, like there's nothing I can do or anybody can do."

A regular at the Bleu Pub in Downtown Valdosta, McCanney said he generally feels safe at bars around the city. 

For Remerton Police Department Investigator Derrick Sinclair, violent events involving guns at bars are extremely uncommon. He said there hasn't been an incident at any of the seven Remerton bars in more than a decade.

All law-enforcement officials in Remerton, Valdosta and Lowndes County are trained in how to respond to an active shooter.

Ever since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, Sinclair said the response of law enforcement to mass shootings has changed. 

One of those left dead after the shooting in California was a Ventura County sheriff's deputy who was responding to the call. Sinclair said that officer did exactly what he was trained to do and entered the bar looking for the suspect, seeking to put an end to the violence.

"You don't contain the scene anymore while the shooting is going on inside," Sinclair said. "You go toward the shooting, find the shooter and take care of the shooter. That's what you have to do, and that's what the sheriff's deputy in Ventura was trying to do."

Since most of the college bars are located inside the City of Remerton, the police department maintains a strong relationship with the bar owners. Police always keep a presence at the bars on the weekends and during special events.

Law enforcement in the cities and county also work together to ensure the safety of students and residents.

"If something ever did happen, we would have backup ... We're in this together," Sinclair said. "Unfortunately, I don't know that there is a plan that could thwart (a shooting similar to what happened in Ventura)."

For students and residents going to bars, Sinclair said to stay vigilant, observant of their surroundings and always be aware of exits and possible escape routes in any given situation.

If anyone should find themselves stuck in an active shooter situation, they should either run, hide or fight.

"In that order," Sinclair said. "Always be careful, always have a plan in case something does happen. That's not just for bars but for everywhere you go. That's just – life."

For McCanney, he said he will continue going out at night to grab a drink with friends. He may be looking over his shoulder every time he goes out, now, but that won't stop him.

"If you let it stop you, they win," McCanney said. "I'm going to be more cautious when I go out, especially to college bars and bars near campus, but I'm not going to give that scumbag the satisfaction of stopping me."

Thomas Lynn is a government and education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256

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