Saturday, May 4, 2013

Survivor Story: Vicki G.

Shooting survivor Vicki G.
Today we have a survivor story from guest blogger Vicki G..  As she describes below, in 1991 she was shot three times in the back by a bank robber.  22 years later, she still suffers daily from debilitating pain which threatens her livelihood in Emergency Medicine, as a result of the wounds she received.  Now living in Ohio, Vicki supports gun violence prevention organizations in an effort to keep fewer people from suffering as she does.  Here is her survivor story....

I’m a Paramedic and ECG Technician, but I’m in the process of losing my job again. As a direct result of the damage my gunshot wound caused me, I haven’t been able to work full time since it happened. I miss too many days due to excessive pain.

I never considered guns and ammunition as anything other than something my brother, who has 20 rifles, used for catching game that he brought home and my mom cooked for dinner. He knew how to handle a gun and treated it with more respect than the guy who shot me did. To my brother, hunting was a sport for which you need to buy rifles and crossbow. He wasn’t obsessed with firearms, as the guy who shot me demonstrated was the case with him.

When I was in 9th grade there was a shooting at my school, one student shot another in the back for reasons I still don’t understand. After the shooting, a metal detector was placed at the front door of our school and that simple solution ended most of my concerns about gun violence.

I became reluctantly re-acquainted with the issue of gun safety on a December day in 1991, in West Hollywood, California. I went into my bank to cash a check from my second job, and three guys entered a few minutes behind me dressed in trench coats, which they dropped in unison; one started shooting out security cameras while the other two barred all the exits with something they declared was explosive if you stretch the wire it was attached to and “would kill anybody DUMB enough to try breaking out."

The one I came to view as their leader shot out the cameras with a sawed-off shotgun and another guy, with a gun that looked like it came straight off a military base, told us to gather together and don’t talk or do anything stupid. He informed us that his gun could shoot more than 150 bullets in 5 minutes, which I didn’t believe then, but the idea of ONE bullet entering my body daunted ME so I was prepared to do ANYthing they asked.

“All right you losers, “ he shouted, “this is a HOLDUP. Everyone get together in front of the counter but DON’T try anything stupid or the rest of these people will watch me blow your freakin’ brains out.”

One of the tellers didn’t move fast enough, and the lead robber shot him for it, surprising the guy who’d just threatened to blow out our brains with all the bullets his weapon could release; the leader would be the only robber who did any shooting of people.

The teller lay wounded for the next 5 hours, while the leader held us hostage for what the teller had done: pressed some silent alarm and alerted police.

While they were tying us together, one of the customers asked me who they were, as if I’d know. But the leader answered for me: “Who AM I? I’m your new Messiah, honey. Death angel with a gun.” Then he grinned in a way that reminded me of skeletons and graveyards.

I thought ‘Great. A REAL nut ball.’ Then wondered how the hell someone that imbalanced could get one gun, much less the arsenal that HE brought with him that day, including 3 other weapons besides the shotgun, a knife and several handmade explosives.

Little did I know they had no gun checks for people like him back then, that he could buy a gun without question by going to a gun show or making a private sale, avoiding the background check that would have proved he was on probation for a felony involving gun violence. They still have that loophole now, but I’ll return to it later.

For five hours he threatened the other hostages and me with his weapon, doing everything from holding it against my head and making me wonder if I’d ever see another sunrise to forcing me to stare down the barrel of his shotgun and demanding I tell him what I see.

It was pitch black all the way down the barrel. I had no idea what answer he was expecting, but I ventured a guess anyway since he obviously had the upper hand. “I don’t see ANYthing down there.”

“WRONG ANSWER!” he yelled, making me jump almost out of my skin.

“Bullets?” I managed.

He gave that death grin and said “You’re getting smarter by the minute. Now tell me where you think you’re going as soon as pull the trigger and blow out your brains.”

Up until that very moment in time, I’d always thought that I had a strong belief as to where I thought I was going after shedding the burden of this world for the ease of the next. But staring down the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun changed my mind; In less than a few seconds I went from positive to completely unsure of where I would go.

I told him I have no clue where I’m going, then started begging him not to shoot me. I felt like an idiot for displaying what he would have perceived as a weakness, but I no longer cared about anything other than living and couldn’t stop myself from doing it.

My life was saved because the phone rang. The Hostage Negotiator wanting to talk to the lead robber, who said no. Then the officer wanted to talk to a hostage to see if they were all right and for some reason the robber relented. He looked at all of us and picked the person who was closest to him, which was me. He dragged me over to the phone and said, “TALK to this cop. But don’t you dare say one wrong thing, or I’ll blow your head off and slit your throat, then THROW you out in the street for those fuckin’ pigs to stare at.”

Then: “Are you gonna say somethin’ wrong?”

I shook my head and he handed me the phone. The hostage negotiator provided me with a link to my sanity. His voice was so calm and controlled I was able to manage my emotions a teeny bit, and I started feeling gratitude for the SWAT Team right from that moment. I thought they were concerned about me, and I still think they cared about me.

The guy shot me while he was releasing me as the last hostage he set free. He said he had to and that it was “those cops’ fault ‘cause they didn’t leave when I told them to." One of his demands was that he wanted them to go back to headquarters, so he could do his heist and run free without their interference.

He shot me in the back three times with a .32 semi-automatic handgun. One of the bullets hit an area that contains a huge nerve network and damaged the one nerve along with causing radiating pain throughout the whole network. My doctor said that’s why the pain never diminishes.

They’ve tried everything to manage it. From leg braces and crutches to back injections and Physical Therapy. Most recently they added a T.E.N.S unit. That’s a box that comes with electrodes that are attached to patches I wear on my back so that a constant low wattage of electricity is sent through my back to manage the pain. So far it’s the only thing that’s worked but it works only 85 to 90% of the time. The other 10 to 15% is still really bad pain that prevents me from going to work consistently and thereafter losing my job. I lost my health care because I’m too high a risk and now have to use the only choice of insurance left, which isn’t a good insurance, but better than nothing.

Because of all these issues I have, I decided I would never wish on anyone else what I suffer on a daily basis.  The only way I can prove I’m serious is to care just what type of person can so easily get a gun that, even to this day, he STILL wouldn’t even have had to steal it. Criminals always choose the path of least resistance. They’re not going to steal a gun when they can buy one legally and not even have to worry about possible police involvement by way of tracing a stolen gun. They all have serial numbers on them these days, or some type of number, which makes them harder to steal. But having someone get one right under my nose “legally,” then shooting me and ruining the former life I had so that I can never do what I used to do, is way more than I’m willing to handle.

But I’m not the only one who needs to care about this issue. One of the doctors who works at the Trauma Center I used to work at summed the issue up best when he said, “A gunshot wound is totally preventable. We don’t HAVE to have gunshot wounds.”

Everyone, including responsible gun owners, needs to get angry enough about the senseless shootings that occur every day in this country and feel compelled to enact reasonable gun laws. There are ways to keep the wrong people from having easy access to a firearm without taking guns way from sensible gun owners. One of those ways is a Universal Background check, one done on everyone no matter who they are. No gun show exceptions, no personal sales exceptions.

Unfortunately, if respectable gun owners never feel the urge to do something, enacting reasonable gun laws will always be an uphill battle.

There are gun owners who already support this idea. You can find them on a Facebook page called Gun Owners for Gun Laws. I assume the people who started the page own their own firearms. Otherwise the title ‘Gun Owners for Gun Laws’ would make no sense.

I’ll always support sane alternatives to gun violence. It’s the one thing I can do that won’t cost me my job. Besides, doing something feels better than ignoring the problem. It’s obviously not going away until enough people get sick and tired of being sick and tired of gun violence.

ADDENDUM, from Vicki G.:  

I forgot to mention what their sentences were. 

One of them got 7 years for being an accomplice to robbery and two shootings. It was his first offense and he got out 5 years later, but he's never committed any other crimes since then.

The second got probation violation, which meant he had to serve out the rest of that sentence and then had felony robbery charges, weapons infractions charges and accomplice to two shootings. He ended up spending 15 years in prison and was released because his time was up. As far as I know, he hasn't committed any further crimes either, but he never did any of the shootings himself.

The third guy was guilty of Probation violation, weapons violations, felony robbery, hostage-taking, using a hostage as a shield (to stop police from following him) and shooting two people. He ended up being sentenced to 30 years in prison and he's only served 21 of them, but he wants out of prison as an Early Release prisoner even though he has no regrets for anything he's done. 

He's actually said he has no regrets. 

Anyway. That's their sentences as best I can remember them. It was a lot of information and back then I had mild traumatic brain injury from a near-death experience. I had great difficulty retaining memories.

I remember the shooter's sentence so well because right after it was given to him, he threatened to kill both the people he shot for putting him in prison.

That's why I don't want my last name given on my story.