October 12, 2012, started out as a typical day. It was a bit chilly that morning, so I put on a sweater that I particularly liked and headed to the local arts center where I worked at the time. We held a concert as part of an exhibit, so it was a long day, but a wonderful one.
I was tired when I got home so I decided to unwind in the swing hanging from a large oak tree in my front yard. It was around 11:30 pm when I decided I should get to bed – I had an early day at work the next day. Just as I started to get up, I heard what I thought were firecrackers going off. I turned and saw two young men walking towards me on the sidewalk. My first thought was, “Why are they throwing firecrackers at me?” I felt an urgency to get inside.
I turned to walk towards the front door and heard another “firecracker.” I felt an odd sensation, like pressure coming from both the inside and outside of my body, at the same time. It was then that I saw one of the men had a gun, and he was shooting at me. Perhaps I was in shock, but I did not realize I had already been struck two times.
I rushed to get inside the house, but tripped and fell at the front stoop. I was sitting with my back up against the front door—the men were right on top of me. The shooter held the gun to my face and said, “Do you like my gun?” I put my arm up to defend myself and he shot me again, this time at point-blank range. The bullet entered through my armpit and lodged in my back, about an inch from my spine.
Somehow, I managed to open the door, get inside, and shut it. Remarkably, my attackers didn’t follow me inside– I most likely wouldn’t have survived any more wounds. I later learned they likely ran off as neighbors came out to see what was going on. They didn’t want to get caught.
Once inside, I remember feeling relief that my roommate was already on the phone with 911, and I wouldn’t have to call myself. I began looking for something to help stop the blood streaming from my chest. I saw the sweater I had on earlier in the day, sitting beside a shirt I didn’t particularly like. I picked up the shirt and held it to my chest. Still on the phone with 911, my roommate insisted I lay down, so I did, but it became hard to breathe.
It may sound trivial, but all I could think about at that moment was everything I hadn’t finished at work and what still needed to get done. This made me even more panicked.
Then, I thought, “Is this what it feels like to die?”
Thankfully, paramedics quickly arrived at the scene, and so did the police. I remained conscious enough to answer officers’ questions and was in incredible pain as I was taken to the hospital.
I was hit by three bullets, which damaged one of my lungs, my liver, obliterated my gall bladder, and nicked my stomach. I was unconscious for an entire day after the surgery to repair my ravaged body.
The first few days were physically painful but the emotional pain was just as intense. I was given powerful medicine to help control the physical pain, only to wake up time and time again to encounter the reality that I had, in fact, been shot multiple times in my front yard.
Today, I still experience moments of intense physical pain due to nerve damage in my torso. Most of the time, however, the pain is manageable, so I feel fortunate in that regard. Losing my gallbladder has profoundly impacted my diet—I can no longer enjoy the foods I once did without side effects.
The shooters were never apprehended. I was one of five others in the area who were shot in their front yards that week. However, the police don’t believe the cases are connected.
I will probably never know who shot me. But I do know that if Alabama required a background check on every gun sale, our state would be safer. There isn’t one solution that can stop every shooting, but there are common sense steps we can take to prevent gun violence. Perhaps, then, my shooting could have been prevented.
After my shooting, I was interviewed by the media many times urging for stronger gun laws. I spoke out as often as I could for someone who had just experienced a traumatic, life-altering event. In my home state of Alabama I received an immense amount of pushback every time my comments were published or aired. It became too emotional for me to deal with, so I took a long break.
About a year-and-a-half later, I decided I could no longer be silent. I connected with Everytown for Gun Safety and founded the Mobile, Alabama chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. This dynamic organization not only connected me with others who have experienced the trauma of gun violence, but gave me the necessary training and tools to become a confident advocate for sensible gun reform.
Today, I serve as the Survivor Engagement Lead for Mobile, and I am an Everytown Survivor Fellow. I speak frequently at public events, and do both local and national interviews on the topic of gun violence prevention. I am committed to taking any opportunity I get to help advance our cause.
Now, when I’m published or quoted, people can challenge me and it doesn’t feel like a personal attack. I don’t feel re-victimized. I just feel more committed to go out and see things accomplished that will make my family and friends safer.
What I’ve learned since joining Everytown and Moms Demand Action is that there IS a community of people who not only care, but who are intensely passionate about taking action to prevent senseless gun violence. Gun violence galvanizes people out of anger and out of shared grief. It’s time we harness this passion and drive real change.
This piece is by Allen Wayne McNeil. If you or anyone you know has been personally affected by gun violence and would like to share your story with Moms Demand Action, please email [email protected].