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Collierville residents express views over community safety 

By Aarron Fleming

Sara Wiles and Holly Skaggs, both survivors of Thursday’s shooting, took the stage at Friday’s vigil to speak about what it was like being inside the store. The two didn’t know each other previously, but Wiles said that she now considers Skaggs her “guardian angel.” Photo by Aarron Fleming

Gathered under the sweltering heat from the afternoon sun, Collierville residents, many whom were dressed in maroon to show their support for the community, bowed their heads as they listened to the prayers offered by local religious leaders. 

Community members as well as local and national media assembled Friday in front of the town’s large, white town hall building to come together in the wake of one of Collierville’s worst tragedies to date. 

“This is not a mark against our community. This is a chance for us to grow in love together,” said one pastor that took the stage.

A shooting that took occurred at the Kroger on New Byhalia Rd. the previous day left 15 wounded and one dead, including the shooter himself, who has since been identified by local police as UK Thang.

According to police, Thang was last reported living at 885 Federal Ridge Rd. at the Madison at Schilling Farms apartment complex off of Winchester.

Most of Thang’s neighbors said that they didn’t know him, just that they had seen him come and go.

It was confirmed this morning, along with Thang’s name and address, that he worked for a third-party vendor inside of the Kroger.

“When I arrived, I had to go around because of the police and swat team surrounding the area,” said Xayasack Saysoembath, one of Thang’s neighbors.

A video of the raid that Saysoembath shared with the Collierville Herald Independent shows a heavy law enforcement presence. 

Two SUVs were on site, a white one belonging to the Collierville Police Department as well as a black one belonging to another agency. 

Several officers dressed in helmets and vests and armed with assault rifles walked past the SUVs and were surrounding Thang’s building.

Saysoembath said that he was on his way to the Kroger that became the scene of the attack when he got word of what had taken place earlier in the day.

“I was getting ready to go to Kroger to do some shopping to bring back some dinner for the kids,” he said. “So then I saw the message and came straight home and made sure the kids got home okay off the bus.”

His children attend Collierville High School which went on lockdown yesterday following reports of the shooting. 

Saysoembath, who is originally from Laos, lived in Thailand for almost two decades before moving to the US.

He said that he moved to Collierville with his family because it felt safe and because of the good school system. 

Now, that has all changed.

“In 19 years living there, we never felt any kind of violence or threat,” he said, “But coming back to America, it’s almost like reverse culture.” 

Saysoembath isn’t alone, either.

Collierville resident, Ben Vale, who was at Friday’s vigil, said that he doesn’t feel safe anymore either.

“I feel like I need to be looking over my shoulder,” he said. “Not even with yesterday’s events, just in general. Definitely will be more aware when I’m out in public.”

While the shooting may have changed their minds, two other residents said that they actually feel safer now than they did before.

“I feel safer now knowing that our first responders care so much and care so deeply,” said Gwen Harper, a Collierville resident who has lived in the area for 18 years.

Harper said that how quickly first responders got to the scene yesterday and how seriously they have taken the situation is why she feels like she’s in good hands.

Stacy Starnes, a friend of Harper’s that has lived in Collierville for the last four years and attended the vigil with her, echoed her comments.

“I feel safe, I feel proud, I feel like I’m a part of something that’s making a difference,” she said. 

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