"Losing Our Sons" - Father of killed soldier and father of killer come together
It was four years ago when two families were forever changed. A Little Rock man became the father of a dead soldier and a Memphis man became the father of a soldier killer. Now those two fathers have not only become friends, they're on a mission... desperately trying to keep the tragedy that happened to them from happening again.
It's not a blockbuster film but the content of a documentary called "Losing Our Sons" may be more compelling than anything on the big screen this summer.
"It tells the world what I've been talking about for the last four years," said Melvin Bledsoe.
June 1, 2009, Private Andy Long and Private Quinton Ezeagwula were standing outside a recruiting office on Rodney Parham when Carlos Bledsoe, then known as Abdulhakim Muhammad shot the two soldiers.
Andy's mom, Janet, was just 50 feet away in the parking lot and watched her son's last moments.
"I can say nothing will prepare you for that kind of news. Nothing," said Daris Long, Andy Long's father.
Andy Long and Carlos Bledsoe had similar backgrounds both raised in loving, Christian families.
Melvin Bledsoe says his son, Carlos, was a fun, outgoing person who loved to dance.
His dreams of taking over the family tour bus business in Memphis took him to Nashville, Tennessee to pursuit a degree in business administration.
"But before that dream could become a reality, the nightmare came first," said Melvin Bledsoe.
Melvin says his son, who was raised in a Baptist church, was recruited by a group of Muslims at a Nashville mosque.
"He was young, impressionable. He looked for a different religion. And I think that when he started speaking that to other people, he was led into the mosque," said Melvin.
Carlos then traveled to Yemen. He told hid dad he would be teaching English. Instead Melvin says he was sent to an Islamic extremist training camp.
"23 hours a day in some camp in the mountains in Yemen, they brainwash them. Nowhere to go, or hide. Nothing to do but what they tell them," said Melvin.
Carlos was later arrested for over-staying his visa.
Yemeni authorities allegedly seized a cell phone with contact numbers of terrorist fugitives and a fake Somali passport.
Also found a flash drive containing literature identified as bomb making manuals and terrorist instruction.
"Had we known what the federal government knew. And they did know that he had been radicalized. And that he was a danger. They had been tracking him for two years," said Melvin.
But Melvin says he didn't know. And allowed his son to move to Little Rock to help expand the family business.
On the morning of June 1, 2009... Melvin's son did not show up to work.
"Something inside my heart was saying something was very wrong," said Melvin.
Melvin and his wife took off for Little Rock. Before they arrive, an unexpected and devastating phone call from the FBI.
"Something had happened. Someone was dead. And my son was the shooter. My heart dropped to my feet. My wife saw my face. I had to pull over and tell her. We were totally shocked. Could not believe what we just heard," said Melvin.
After his arrest, the man formerly known as Carlos sent a letter to the judge confessing to being a member of Al Qaeda, killing Andy Long, and admitting to other attacks and attempted attacks. All in the name of Allah.
"What I did is Islamic justified, and also justified by common sense, you know," Abdulhakim Muhammad to an AP reporter after the arrest.
"That was not my son," said Melvin. "That was not the son that I raised. This was the person he became. This was not Carlos. This was Abdulhakim. This is who he became this is who they told him he should be."
"My son was not killed for who he was. My son was killed for what he was," said Daris Long.
The two fathers have since been speaking to anyone who will listen, including congress, about the recruitment and brainwashing by Islamic extremists that is happening in our own backyard.
"No one should be allowed to come into this country and recruit American citizens to do harm to his own citizens," said Melvin. "It should not be allowed to happen."
Daris, a military soldier who grew up in Afghanistan, says the attempt to be politically correct is causing our nation's leaders to turn a blind eye to the religious corruption that is going on.
"I am not willing to condemn a billion and a half Muslims for their religion," said Daris. "I am willing to condemn any one that will pick up a bomb or rifle or whatever and kill for that religion."
Whether it be his son's murder or the recent bombing at the Boston marathon, Daris says his anger is what keeps him fighting in an attempt to teach others about a real and very serious threat.
"Forget trying to understand and why they do it," said Daris. "Look at the facts. You may like the facts, you may disagree with the facts, you may hate the facts, but facts are facts. There are people out there who want to kill you."
Melvin wishes he would have recognized what was happening to Carlos earlier and warns other parents to be on the lookout for sudden changes.
"The clothing that they wear," said Melvin. "They no longer feel that its right by God to have a girlfriend. Giving away all your possessions because you only need Allah."
Melvin and Daris say they will continue to fight the good fight hoping that no parents will ever have to come together... after losing their sons.
"We gave my son to God the day Andy died," said Daris. "We got our knees and prayed in the living room. This isn't about us. This is about something bigger."
"Yesterday it was my son," said Melvin. "Tomorrow it could be your son or your daughter."
The federal government considers this killing a drive-by shooting and not terrorism which both fathers say is offensive.
But they are grateful to the state government for unanimously approving Andy's Law... allowing victims to go after assets of terrorist groups that are behind crimes.