Life After Being Shot
Of the estimated 300 people in the United States who are shot on an average day, about 200 survive. But many of them do so with devastating physical and emotional scars that last a lifetime.
Their ailments range from paralysis and possible lead poisoning, to crippling anxiety attacks and depression.
Eleven survivors of gun violence tell their stories in their own words in Shattered: Life After Being Shot.
Every individual’s story is paired with a portrait, created by photographer Tyrone Turner. The portraits are a composite, using a “stitching” technique that combines multiple pictures.
Explore their stories below.
Please be advised, strong language is used.
Four years ago, Caia Delavergne was a 19-year-old college student in Alaska, when a man she had known for less than a month shot her in the head.
The shooting took her left eye and, for a while, her mental and emotional health.
“I couldn’t leave the house. I had severe anxiety,” she said. “Even now, I’ll have anxiety attacks on the train and have to calm myself down.”
While the experience of the shooting was harrowing, Delavergne said the worst was to come during the shooter’s trial, where she says she was painted as a villain who had led her attacker on romantically.
“I thought being shot was going to be the hardest part. But, really, at the trial … they said it was my fault.”
The man who shot her was eventually convicted of attempted first-degree murder and was sentenced to serve 81 years in prison.
Colin Goddard was in French class on April 16, 2007, at Virginia Tech when he heard a series of loud bangs.
Minutes later, he was on the ground in a pool of his own blood, suffering from four gunshot wounds as a fellow student carried out the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. A gunman killed 32 people and injured more than a dozen others before killing himself.
“I thought I laid on that ground for hours,” Goddard said. “I’ve learned since it was about nine-and-a-half minutes from the first gunshot to the last.”
While Goddard’s physical recovery in the months after the shooting went relatively smoothly, bullet remnants are still in his body, leeching poisonous lead into his bloodstream.
Doctors warn that efforts to remove the bullet pieces are too risky.
“So I am kind of stuck,” Goddard said. “And that’s scary. As much as I thought I survived that shooting physically, and recovered … it’s not over.”
Deonte Gay & Corie Davis
Deonte Gay was planning to pick up his four-month-old daughter and bring her to his mother’s house one night in September 2010. But instead, while running an errand with a friend who was going to be his ride for the night, Gay was shot as a random bystander during a robbery attempt on a liquor store a short ride away from his home.
“Out the corner of my eye, I see the owner raise her gun,” Gay remembered. “And as she’s raising her gun, when I turn back, he’s firing … But it’s the bulletproof glass. Bounced off and hit me in my neck.”
Gay lost the use of his legs and much of his lower body that night. Now in a wheelchair, he says the shooting was the best thing to happen to him.
“I learned so much about myself in this chair,” Gay said. “I boxed myself in while I was walking.”
Since the shooting, Gay has traveled, joined a rugby group for other wheelchair users and learned how to swim through programs at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Washington, D.C.
“My life changed for the better … These [have] been the best 10 years.”
Corie Davis has been in a wheelchair since Aug. 30, 1999, when a physical altercation ended with a gunshot.
“When the bullet hit me in my neck, I just went to the ground,” Davis said. “My eyes closed and I went to the hospital, woke up [and] I was paralyzed.
In the 20 years since, Davis has become a de facto mentor to many of the young men, including Gay, at the NRH’s Urban Re-Entry Group, a support group for people with disabilities who are survivors of violence.
“You just gotta take it one day at a time, and do what you gotta do to make yourself happy,” Davis said. “I mean, you’re going to have your ups and downs, but it is what it is.”
Lisette Johnson’s daughter was 12 years old when she saw her father shoot Johnson multiple times at their family home in Richmond, Virginia. Johnson’s son, who had just celebrated his 10th birthday days before, was steps away, downstairs playing a video game.
“When he aimed at my head, he said ‘I love you too much to live without you,’” said Johnson, who was in the process of ending the relationship after years of described abuse.
Johnson stood up to run away, saving herself from being shot in the head. Instead, she took a bullet to the chest as her daughter came into the room.
“My daughter was [saying] ‘Mommy, mommy what’s going on, what’s happening?’ And I had to keep running.”
Johnson was shot three more times before she collapsed in her yard.
“I heard a final shot. And I didn’t know who he’d shot ... I didn’t know where the kids were. I didn’t know if he’d shot them too.”
The last shot Johnson heard was her husband turning the gun on himself.
“My daughter saw that,” Johnson tearily recalled of her husband’s suicide.
“I think the human spirit is indomitable. But there’s only so much children can take.”
Star Myles had been with her former husband for 14 years — nearly half her life — when he shot her in the head one night during an argument, destroying her left eye and crushing half of her face.
“That isn’t the first time I had seen his handgun … I’ve had it pulled on me multiple times, just never to the point where he actually pulled the trigger,” Myles said of the 2011 incident. “Even that night when it took place, [it’s] still kind of hard to believe that he actually finally pulled the trigger.”
Myles’ oldest daughter, who was 11 years old at the time and witnessed the whole episode, called the police.
“I’m sorry she had to experience that, but if she was not there that night I [would] not be here,” Myles said. “So I’m very sad that she had to see that, but I’m glad that she was there.”
After 16 surgeries and years of therapy, Myles now works as an advocate for other victims of domestic abuse.
“I love my job. It doesn’t feel like I’m at work at all. And when I look back on things, I feel that I was taken through what I was taken through for a reason,” Myles said.
Kate Ranta met her ex-husband online. He was a captain in the Air Force, something that made Ranta feel like he could be trusted.
“I felt like [the military] kind of weeded him out from the rest ... kind of vetted him,” Ranta said.
In the beginning, he was so helpful that Ranta nicknamed him “Mr. Fix-It,” and he got along well enough with her son from a previous relationship.
But after they had married and had a child of their own, things soon shifted to what Ranta described as emotional, psychological and financial abuse, forcing her to flee with their young son to an apartment she thought he wouldn’t find.
“It was very subtle and insidious,” Ranta said. “People like to think ‘I’d know’ or ‘I’d see the signs,’ and I was probably one of them at one point. But the fact is, it’s not like these abusers court you and are waving their abuser flag right out of the gate.”
The abuse escalated from there to stalking and vandalization of property, Ranta said. It ended on a Friday in 2012, when her former husband came to her new apartment and shot Ranta and her father multiple times each.
“My then 4-year-old son that I had with my abusive ex was standing right behind us. So any of those bullets could have hit him,” Ranta said.
“My son yelled ‘Don’t do it, Daddy. Don’t shoot Mommy.”
Ranta and her father both survived their injuries, but their lives were changed dramatically.
“People underestimate the toll that these injuries take … Every single day, I’m reminded about how I almost died.”
In 2017, a week after his older brother was shot and killed, Sergio Hill woke up in a hospital bed suffering from a gunshot to the leg.
“I didn’t even notice that I had got shot until somebody had walked up to me and told me,” Hill said. “I was so drunk because my brother had recently passed away … taking the stress out [with] just drinking.”
The next year, Hill, who had been working to improve his life and be a better role model for his younger siblings, would be shot again. As he was walking to hang out with friends after a day of work, a bullet ripped through his other leg in an incident that also injured two of his friends.
“It was like 60 rounds [of bullets] that went off that night,” Hill said.
After being shot randomly for the second time, Hill found himself feeling discouraged about his efforts to better his life.
“I was thinking about just saying ‘fuck everything … It don’t matter what I do right, it’s like something’s always going to happen. It don’t matter where I go, something’s always going to happen to me. So I might as well just go back to the streets,’” Hill said.
“But I thought about my brother. Me thinking about my brother not being here made me not want to break [the] law, or go back to the streets, go back to my old ways.”
“It started out like most abusive relationships start: with a push and shove, and then a slap and a punch,” said Laura Morris of her ex-husband. “And when that wasn’t enough, he had a gun that he’d bought for $25 in a bar.”
The abuse carried on for years, Morris said, leaving her in a constant state of fear for the safety of herself and her young son.
“To me, the police couldn’t help you, because I’d called them before and they really didn’t want to take any action. And an order of protection wasn’t going to stop a bullet. It was just a piece of paper … I was absolutely terrified.”
Things culminated one night in 1981, when during a disagreement about whether Morris could leave the house to go out with friends, her husband shot her.
“He was more angry than I’d seen him before with the gun ... And he pointed the gun at my stomach and said ‘Gut shots hurt the worst.’”
Morris’ husband pulled the trigger, and the shot knocked her to the floor.
“I heard him drop to the floor screaming ‘I killed her, I killed her.’”
Morris thought she had died. But when the shock passed, she realized the bullet had grazed her shoulder and lodged into the wall behind her.
Morris agreed not to call the police if her husband would get rid of the gun. But he came home with a shotgun a few weeks later.
“I finally woke up one morning and thought ‘I would rather be dead than live like this. This isn’t living. I’m in constant fear.’”
She left their home in Peoria, Illinois, and eventually moved to Washington, D.C.
She is now an advocate for gun violence prevention.
Keith Tariq Cunningham
Keith Tariq Cunningham was no stranger to violence when he was shot in his hometown of Washington, D.C., nearly 30 years ago.
At the time, the city was “considered the murder capital. That was considered a normal thing,” Cunningham said. “In my mind, I sort of figured it was bound to happen.”
Cunningham was hit in the arm and waist.
“One of my men was like, ‘man, you bleeding.’ And that’s when I looked down. I [saw] the blood trickling down my arm,” Cunningham said.
Violent incidents like these were so familiar, that the idea of living to even his 21st birthday seemed almost out of reach.
“I woke up and looked at the clock and was like ‘My God, I made it.’ Because so many guys I knew had died literally before their 21st birthday,” Cunningham said.
Now in his late 40s, Cunningham works as a mentor and community outreach coordinator for D.C.’s youth.
And he sees similar loss. “I am not saying I am OK with it, just I am sort of deadened to it.”
Jennifer Bennett was one of 15 people shot at the Washington Navy Yard when a gunman stormed the military base on Sept. 16, 2013. She is one of three who survived being shot.
“I walked into the shooter on the stairwell, and he and I just stood and looked at each other … And he was what I would tell you hopelessness looks like,” Bennett said.
Bennett was shot in the shoulder. The impact blew a fist-sized hole through her left arm and peeled through her thumb, ring and pinky fingers “like you would slice a hotdog.”
It took nearly an hour and a half for emergency officials to get to Bennett on the roof where she and others had run to escape. She credits her humor and faith in God for getting her through.
“Faith is what grounds people. For me, specifically, it is the foundation with which I see the world. It’s how I see each person. It’s how I deal with tragedy, tough things,” Bennett said.
“That stairwell event had lots of purpose, and that is part of why I was at peace. [God] was with me. I could feel Him, I knew His presence. And so I knew that He made me for that day because I’m a strong person.”
Have you been shot?
Is someone close to you a gunshot survivor?
Thousands of people survive firearm related injuries every year.
WAMU and our partners at Guns & America want to hear your story. Have you been shot? Is someone close to you a survivor of gun violence?
How did this change your life? What parts of you have yet to heal?
You can send us an email to shattered at wamu dot org, or click the button below.
About this project
Reporting by Alana Wise and Tyrone Turner
Photography by Tyrone Turner
Story by Alana Wise
Site Design by Emily Alfin Johnson and Tyrone Turner
Editing by Emily Alfin Johnson, Zuri Berry, Jeffrey Katz, Kelsey Proud and A.C. Valdez
With help from Chris Chester, Lisa Dunn, Xiuzhu Lin, James Reichard and Virendra Silva
Like this project?
Each subject’s portrait is stitched together from multiple photos using Photoshop to create a photo illustration.
This story is produced in partnership with Guns & America.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.