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In Just Three Minutes, My Daughter Was Gone and My Life Forever Changed

This piece is by Carolyn Tuft, Kirsten's mother.

It was February 12th and my 15-year-old daughter, Kirsten, and I were headed to the mall to pick out Valentine’s Day cards for our loved ones. My other daughter, Kait, was supposed to come with us, but she was called into work that day, so we dropped her off at her job and went ahead to the card shop. Kirsten liked the idea that she and I were taking a special trip to the mall together alone.

It was 6:44 p.m. when we arrived at the mall, which is uniquely located in an old trolley station. I remember telling Kirsten it felt weird because it was so quiet. Many of the stores were closed and I remember hoping that the card shop was not one of them because I loved that store. It had a good selection of funny cards and gag gifts, and our family enjoyed teasing one another with gifts of that nature.

The mood changed when we walked into the center of the mall because everything was bright and cheery, and the card shop was open. The card shop is located in the center of the mall, the hub, where the halls of the old trolley barn connected. Two of the four walls were glass, so you could look into it like a fishbowl. Inside the card shop, the walls were bubblegum pink, and the atmosphere was happy with retro games, cards, and gifts – it was a place we could go and lose ourselves for hours in awe and giggles. Kirsten and I had just started perusing gifts for her brother and sister when we heard a loud bang—I was so confused. I wondered if there was something going on outside in the parking lot of the mall and thought to myself that we should stay inside the card shop to be safe. Then, we heard another bang, so I walked to the store’s glass windows that looked out to the mall to find out what was going on. At that exact moment, I saw a flash of light and heard another loud bang, and then looked down to find that my arm was full of glass. In the confusion and chaos, I still didn’t realize what had actually happened, and even began wondering if this was some sort of gag put on by the store.

I turned to Kirsten to ask her what was going on and she said, “Get down, Mom!” That’s the last thing she ever said to me.

I heard glass cracking and shattering and then felt someone standing behind me. I turned around to see this kid in a trench coat holding a pistol grip shotgun. I knew then he was about to shoot me. And then, from about two feet away, he looked at me and did just that.

She SAW people for who they were; she accepted and loved them.

The bullet hit my arm, blew out my lung, and flipped me on my face. As I was lying there, my head was spinning, but I could hear shooting all around me. I opened my eyes and blood was spewing from my mouth, nose and shoulder. I couldn’t breathe. I was thinking I’m going to die in Trolley Square—a place I had been going all my life.

I looked over and saw Kirsten crying and I desperately wanted to get to her but couldn’t because my arm was gone. I started to pull myself towards her on my stomach with my other arm and was just about to get to her—our faces were 6 to 8 inches apart. The shooter was out in the courtyard of the mall reloading his gun, but then he saw me moving so he came back inside and pushed the barrel of his shotgun into my back at my pelvic bone and shot me again, blowing a hole out of my back the size of a cantaloupe.

He then put his shotgun to the side of Kirsten’s head and pulled the trigger.

This all happened within three minutes—from the time I parked my car to the time the SWAT team entered the store, I remember every single second. I remember the police coming in, and the paramedics cutting my clothes off… the conversation… telling them that’s my purse and that’s my daughter and her name is Kirsten Hinckley. I didn’t want her to get lost in the paperwork because I was going to be dead and no one would be there for her. I was also thinking about Kait who would be getting off work, and no one would be there to pick her up. I’m looking at Kirsten—lying there with a shotgun wound to her head—and I’m thinking about the safety of Kait as well.

For a very long time, I was in shock from the trauma of losing a child in this horrific way, and losing the life I once knew. I am an artist by profession so the use of my hands and arms is crucial to performing my craft. I’ve had seven surgeries and still have hundreds of lead shotgun pellets inside my body that cannot be removed. The lead, which is poisonous and leaches into my body making me very sick. Every morning, I wake up feeling like I have the flu—I’m nauseous, and my bones throb and ache. For the past nine years, there hasn’t been one day I have felt well.

It’s not the way anyone should have to live, so if there’s anything I can do to prevent somebody else from living this life, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.

There are several reasons why I feel compelled to share our story but, first and foremost, to honor my daughter.

Kirsten was an incredibly talented artist, very sweet, really funny and had an infamous, infectious laugh. She was a kind-hearted soul who loved animals. She had a billion friends. I’ve had so many people from her high school tell me she was the girl who would sit next to them when no one else would. She made them feel important. She SAW people for who they were; she accepted and loved them.

Kirsten never got the chance to grow up and she no longer has a voice to speak for herself, so I feel the obligation to speak for her. As long as I have a voice, I’m going to shout from the rooftops for Kirsten – NOT ONE MORE. Her laugh is gone but her laughter is still inside me.

And then there’s the hell I’ve experienced as a survivor of gun violence. Living with chronic pain is exhausting and excruciatingly painful. It’s drained me financially and destroyed my credit. I lost my ability to work, I lost my business, I lost my healthy, strong body, I lost the ability to provide for myself and my family, I lost my home, I lost my child, I lost the person I used to be. It’s not the way anyone should have to live, so if there’s anything I can do to prevent somebody else from living this life, then that’s exactly what I’ll do.

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