UPDATE: WRCB organizes effort to raise money for Chattanooga Wit - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: WRCB organizes effort to raise money for Chattanooga Witness Support Fund

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Chattanooga has again shown its generous spirit, helping to raise $5,843 for Chattanooga's Witness Support Fund during Wednesday's call-in and online donations.

The new Witness Support Fund will be administered by the United Way, Mayor Andy Berke confirmed to Channel 3 on Wednesday. Chattanooga Police Department will determine how the money is distributed to individuals who cooperate with solving crime.

Berke said small donations from the community help.

HOW TO HELP | Click here to make a donation as small as $5

"We're not buying people cars," Berke said. 

"Even a small donation allows us to give someone a gift card to eat or gas money to get out of town for a few days. It shows them the community is supporting them." 

WRCB has organized a public service effort to make it easy for those individuals interested in giving to the Chattanooga's Witness Support Fund. The fund, driven by community donations, operates as a way to provide assistance to witnesses who are willing to cooperate with local authorities on solving violent crime. Similar to a witness protection program, the fund provides various services including accommodations out of town. 

Chattanooga Police officers and other community members will staff a phone bank at WRCB studios on Wednesday. This is a chance for citizens who want to do something about shootings and gang violence to make donations; the donations can be large or small. Donor names will not be published or broadcast.

Watch Channel 3 Eyewitness News TODAY on Wednesday for a chance to call between 5:00-7:00 a.m. and then again in the afternoon from 5:00-6:30 p.m.

Chattanooga Police Chief Fred Fletcher was on hand with some of his officers to accept donations at 5:00 a.m. Mayor Andy Berke joined for the 6:00 a.m. hour.  


RELATED STORY: As the only survivor of a labor day shooting that left two others dead receives witness protection support from the city of Chattanooga, the victim's mother tells Channel 3 how thankful she is for this new program in the community.

The surviving shooting victim's mother contacted Channel 3 after their family was placed in this new witness support program. For their safety, the station is not using her name, her daughter's name or showing any pictures on them on camera.

"It's definitely been a defining moment, there's our family before Labor Day, and there's our family after Labor Day and they are not the same family," the victim's mother said.

Just eight days after Jasmine Hines, 22 and Rashaud Taylor, 23 were shot and killed, the family of the surviving shooting victim is still unable live in their own hometown.  

"Well my daughter, she's recovering and she's safe. and that's probably about all I'll say about her," her mother said, "Her safety is first and foremost our main priority as a family. and we're doing every step that we can to make sure she remains private, she remains anonymous."

Surviving the gunshot was the first hurdle, now she's dealing with death threats. 
    
Her mother said Chattanooga police told them about a new program that could help ensure their family's safety.

"They refused to let what happened to Bianca Horton situation happen to my daughter," she said, "And within 24 hours, probably less than that, I really want to give it about six hours, we were in that program and our family was safe."

But the program, which the city calls the "Witness Support Fund" relies on community donations and partnerships.

The victim's mother is urging the community to step up and help. For her family's sake, and for future victim's of violence.

"Support this program so people who have seen crime, who've been victims of crime can come out and say what they saw without fear of retaliation."

The police report said her daughter was the only witness to the shooting and double murder, and her testimony will be useful in court.    

"She was going to do the right thing because of how victimized she was," she said, "We wouldn't have it any other way it's the right thing to do and it's what we're going to do."

The man charged in this shooting, and with the deaths of two others, is 32-year-old Stephen Mobley. 

After being placed on the TBI's most wanted list, Mobley surrendered to police last week. He's now in jail being held on more than a $3 million dollar bond.


ORIGINAL STORY: A woman who survived the shooting on Labor Day that killed two others is now using Chattanooga's newly-created witness protection program for her safety.

Chattanooga police said money from the "Witness Support Fund" has gone to help two victims since it was created four months ago. The program was created by community members after Bianca Horton's death.

Bianca Horton was murdered in May, her case still unsolved, and police believe she might have been killed because she was willing to testify against Cortez Sims in his upcoming murder trial.

Now police are saying there's another woman in danger and the city is stepping up to protect her.

"In the last two months we've used this twice, most recently for a witness of the most recent double homicide," said Mayor Andy Berke, "We wanted to make sure as we saw what was happening in the community around her that she had a safe place to go."

Channel 3 is not using the woman's name for her safety but police say she started receiving death threats on social media days after she survived a labor day shooting.
    
That's when the victim's services coordinator at the Chattanooga Police Department steps in and helps make a safety plan using newly-donated money.

"Maybe Chattanooga's no longer safe for them so we need to get them out, find a safe community or family member to live with for the time being, whatever that looks like," said Caroline Huffaker, Victim's Services Coordinator.

The witness support fund is still new but the city hopes the promise of protection will help witnesses and victims of violence cooperate with police, and testify against their accused killer.

"It's letting people know that if I come forward there will be somebody on the other end of the phone, there will be somebody that hears my story and hears my concerns," Huffaker said.

The witness support fund currently relies on community donations to help keep victims of violence safe. If you'd like to donate, or help out in another way, can sign up for the Citizens Safety Coalition at Chattanooga.gov/safe.

"If we're going to end violence you have to have witnesses who will come forward and talk about what's happening and that's why it's a great thing that we've set up this fund and are encouraging people to come forward," Mayor Berke said.

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