CINCINNATI — Monday marked three years since a gunman entered Fifth Third Center and fired dozens of rounds within just a few minutes, killing three people and gravely wounding two others.
In the time since, one of those survivors — Whitney Austin — has made it her life's work to prevent rising trends of gun violence and mass shootings both in Cincinnati and across the country.
"I will not be able to look back and know that we have made a difference unless we can look at the numbers and see that the number of people shot, killed, injured each year is reduced," Austin said.
ORAL HISTORY: 9 people tell the story of 2018 Fifth Third shooting
The gunman — later identified by police as 29-year-old Omar Enrique Santa-Perez — shot Austin 12 times before officers shot him in the exchange on Sept. 6, 2018. She was hospitalized and required surgery to recover.
Brian Sarver also was injured but survived. Prudhvi Raj Kandepi, 25, a consultant at Fifth Third; Richard Newcomer, 64, a superintendent for Gilbane Building Co.; and Luis Felipe Calderón, 48, a manager at Fifth Third, did not survive.
Ultimately, Austin, then a Fifth Third vice president, decided to leave her job at the bank to launch Whitney/Strong, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing gun violence through education, legislation and research.
"I survived something that very few people survive," Austin said. "As a result, I do the work of Whitney/Strong because I need to pay for this gift that I've been given. What I want people to know is: Don't give up, you know. It's way too easy to think that this problem will never be solved, that it's too political... I want you to know that is not true."
Cincinnati police data show the number of shooting victims in the city increased every year between 2018 and 2020, peaking during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. So far in 2021, though, the city has seen fewer shooting victims than last year.
"It comes in the form of community work that comes in the form of legislation," she said. "It comes in the form of just me talking to you and advocacy, and so we celebrate the wins along the way, because this is going to be a long journey."