On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Of the 300 people shot on an average day in America, about 200 survive — many with devastating physical and emotional scars that last a lifetime.
Their traumas range from paralysis and possible lead poisoning, to crippling anxiety attacks and depression.
In “Shattered: Life After Being Shot,” survivors of gun violence share their stories with WAMU. Photojournalist Tyrone Turner and Guns & America fellow Alana Wise join us to talk about their reporting.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- Alana Wise Reporting Fellow, Guns & America; @alanawise_
- Tyrone Turner Visuals Editor, WAMU
- Kate Ranta Author, "Killing Kate: A Story of Turning Abuse and Tragedy into Transformation and Triumph"
- Dr. Samuel Gordon Clinical Psychologist, MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital
Shattered: 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.
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tune in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Of the 300 people shot on an average day in America about 200 survive, many with devastating physical and emotional scars that last a lifetime. Their traumas range from paralysis and possible lead poisoning to crippling anxiety attacks and depression. In "Shattered," a new storytelling series from WAMU and Guns & America, survivors of gun violence share stories about the pain and recovery of life after being shot. Joining us to talk about this is Alana Wise. She is Reporting Fellow with Guns & American, a public radio collaboration focused on the roles of guns in American life. Alana, always a pleasure.
ALANA WISEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Tyrone Turner. He is Visuals Editor at WAMU. Hi, Tyrone.
TYRONE TURNERHello, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Kate Ranta is a survivor of gun violence and author of the book "Killing Kate: A Story of Turning Abuse and Tragedy into Transformation and Triumph." Kate Ranta, thank you for joining us.
KATE RANTAThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlana, what was the impetus for this series? Why did you chose to report on this aspect of gun violence in particular?
WISESo one thing that was becoming pretty increasingly apparent as we were reporting on guns in generals as part of the Guns & American fellowship is that there are so many people who -- when we think about people being shot we very often thing about fatalities. But one thing that kind of gets lost in the broader conversation is the people who survive their injuries and are now walking around with both physical and psychological scarring as a result. So Tyrone and I had a discussion and we talked about some of the things we had seen and heard in the course of our reporting. And one thing that was -- one thing that kept coming up was these people who had survived being shot and then just kind of never were heard from again. And so that's why we wanted to dig into this on a deeper level.
NNAMDIYou've been focusing on these individuals. What have some of the takeaways from your reporting?
WISEOne of the major things that we took away from this and we actually put out a second part of the series today on domestic violence was just how prevalent domestic violence is and how quickly it can escalate into gun violence. Something else interesting that we found was that while mass shootings are statistically still quite rare, we interviewed two people who had been survivors of mass shootings, one person, who had survived the Virginia Tech shooting and another who was shot during the Navy Yard shooting. So while still quite rare it is something that we're dealing with increasingly as a society, which was interesting.
NNAMDIThe first piece in the series profiles 11 survivors of gun violence. Before we dive deeper into their stories, I'm wondering if you can give us an overview of the series as a whole.
WISESure. So, "Shattered: Life after being Shot" basically takes a look at people who were shot, some as I mentioned domestic violence, some mass shootings, some as a result of street altercations, and takes a look at what their lives have been like since being shot. What exactly were the facts that led to them being shot on that day and how they put their lives back together in the days since. We've interviewed people who were paralyzed as a result of their shootings. People whose mental state took a significant hit, as one could imagine, as a result of being shot. And have taken a look and tried to examine what it takes to put your life back together to come back together and heal after experiencing something so profoundly traumatic.
NNAMDITyrone Turner, as Visuals Editor here you approach the portraits of these 11 survivors in a unique way. I'm wondering if you can discuss how the name for this project "Shattered" came about.
TURNERWell, the name shattered actually came about kind of far into the process of actually doing the project. I was doing the -- what I call stitch portraits where I take a lot of pictures and put them together into a composite in order to visually communicate, you know, what the survivors are going through. But the title "Shattered" was actually suggested by my wife, Susan Sternor, who is also a photographer. And as we were looking at the pictures and kind of editing, she suggested that as a title. And so the intention of the photographs --
NNAMDIYeah. I was wondering how did you translate that title into your photography and into your photo edits. I've always wondered how the heck you do what you do.
TURNERYeah. Thank you. So in doing the photographs it was really -- I had been doing these type of stitch portraits before. And I thought when we were talking about this project that this would be a really powerful technique to kind of visually communicate how the survivors of gunshots literary stitched their own lives back together physically and psychologically, and how they kind of deal with and heal and kind of progress through this process after being shot. And so in doing the portraits we would always interview the people first and talk to them and get to know their story and then do this sessions of these portraits, and they take a little while.
TURNERSo I would sit down. We would choose where we were going to do the pictures. And take, you know, these are literally hundreds of pictures and then choose -- I would later on choose, you know, maybe 20, 30, 40 of these pictures in order to put together to make the portraits.
NNAMDIFascinating. Kate Ranta, you are a survivor of gun violence. We're very grateful you could join us in studio today. I'm wondering if you can start your story at the beginning. How did you meet your former husband?
RANTAI met my former husband on online dating back in 2007. He was an officer in the Air Force, and I was single mom with my younger son named Henry, and Henry was three. And it was one of those very whirlwind.
NNAMDIIt was a quick romance.
RANTAEverything moved very very quickly, which in retrospect was a big red flag, but I didn't recognize it as such.
NNAMDIWhen did the abuse begin?
RANTAIt was very insidious and very subtle. My ex-husband was not physically abusive. I was with him for about three years. His was about power and control, coercive control, you know, mental and emotional abuse. I would say the thread through the entire relationship really was about controlling me. Who I could see and when, kind of driving wedges between some of my friendships.
NNAMDIDidn't want you on social media.
RANTADid not want me on social media. I wasn't quote, allowed to be on Facebook. He believed that that would open the door for infidelity.
NNAMDISo controlling behavior and from that controlling behavior the abuse escalated. Can you tell us about what happened on the Friday in the year 2012 when your ex-husband ambushed you and your family?
RANTASure. So we were about a year and a half into a very contentious divorce. I had previously gotten a restraining order against him. We had experienced stalking, cyber stalking. He had vandalized our vehicles. Just, you know, lots of disturbing behavior, and, yeah, that Friday really was like any other Friday. I worked. I went and picked my son up from preschool. And I went to leave and noticed a slash on my front tire and knew that he had found me. I had not given him the address to my new apartment.
RANTAAnd long story short, my father had come over. And he went to leave and noticed my ex-husband in the parking lot. And he came back into the apartment and we were pushing against the door and my ex was trying to push in. Next thing you knew bullets came flying through the door. So it was an ambush and we also did not even know he had a gun at the time that we were pushing in on the door.
NNAMDIIt's been seven years now. How has that shooting impacted your life?
RANTAIt changed the entire trajectory of my life. I mean, there's definitely Kate before the shooting and then Kate after the shooting. It was a painful physical recovery. I was shot through my right hand. I didn't think I would ever be able to use my hand again, but did a year of occupational therapy to get it moving. And then about three years afterwards I had to take time off of work and do intensive mental health therapy for PTSD and triggers and trauma and learn how to at least have some tools to, you know, figure out and navigate this because it's an ongoing process and it's so incredibly debilitating and difficult.
NNAMDIYour father, as you mentioned, was with you that day. He was also shot. How has his recovery been?
RANTAMy father and I were each shot twice. So one of the bullets went into his left arm and he's experienced extreme nerve damage. His left arm is pretty disabled. It's basically paralyzed. He can't really use it. And then he was shot point blank in his left side, you know, a bullet stuck in him that had to be removed. So that just missed vital organs. And then I was also shot through my left breast. So the bullet just missed my heart. It went in one side of my breast and out the other.
NNAMDIYour son was four years old when he witnessed all of this. What has that experience meant for him?
RANTARight. He was a little guy. He was four. He just turned 11. He's absolutely incredible. He's wise beyond his years, you know, very mature. His anxiety has manifested around me. He's very --
RANTAProtective, very hypervigilant, we were actually just in New York City over the weekend and I can watch him. He'll kind of move around me, either side of me --
NNAMDIA lot of strangers in New York City.
RANTARight. And walk behind me and he's just -- I mean, he's just a kid. He's 11, you know, but he is taking on this protector role that he shouldn't have ever had to take on, but that's where he is. So he does have anxiety around me and something happening to me.
NNAMDIYou've written a book "Killing Kate: A Story of Turning Abuse and Tragedy into Transformation and Triumph." Tell us about that process. What has that been like?
RANTASo I met my co-author Alisa Devine who was writing a compilation book called "#Shewins." And it profiles 22 women who have gone through, you know, various experiences in domestic violence and she had found me and came and interviewed me. And it took hours to get through my story and by the end of it she just was like, "Kate, I need to write this story. Would you let me write this story?" And it was something that I had been thinking about for a long time myself, I mean, technically I'm a writer. I could write it, but it's too painful. I knew that I would just avoid it, and it was just, you know, the stars aligned. And so yeah, we went through this whole process, where I would do hours and hours of recordings about the story, pass it off to her and she would write. And it was a real labor of love, but I'm so excited that it's coming out.
NNAMDIKate Ranta's book "Killing Kate: A Story of Turning Abuse and Tragedy into Transformation and Triumph" will be released tomorrow. You can find a link to it on our site kojoshow.org. Here now is Tamara in Germantown. Tamara, did I pronounce your name correctly?
TAMIRAIt's Tamira. How are you?
NNAMDIHi, Tamira. Thank you so much for calling.
TAMIRAYes. I'm excited. They did an article on me that came out today, Mrs. Wise and Mr. Turner.
WISEHi, Tamira. It's so great to hear from you.
NNAMDITamira, tell us your story.
TAMIRAYes, well, back in March 2014, the 22nd, I was shot five times by my now deceased ex-boyfriend. And I ended up becoming paralyzed on the right side of my face. I have a torn rotator cuff in my left arm. I'm getting treated for PTSD, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings. So, you know, this has been an ongoing process.
NNAMDIWhat were the consequences for your ex-boyfriend?
TAMIRAHe killed himself. So was attempted murder suicide.
NNAMDIWhoa. Thank you very much for sharing your story with us and good luck to you. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we will continue our conversation about this series. It's called "Shattered: Life After Being Shot." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back we're talking about the Guns & America and WAMU series called "Shattered: Life After Being Shot" about what happens to people's lives after they have been shot. Alana Wise is a Reporting Fellow with Guns & America. That's a public radio collaboration focused on the role of guns in American life. Tyrone Turner is Visuals Editor at WAMU. Kate Ranta is a survivor of gun violence and author of the book "Killing Kate: A Story of Turning Abuse and Tragedy into Transformation and Triumph." Joining us now by phone is Star Myles. Her former husband of 14 years shot her in the head one night during an argument destroying her left eye and crushing half of her face. Star Myles joins us now by telephone. Thank you so much for joining us.
STARHi and thank you guys for having me.
NNAMDIYou have a story too of domestic violence we'd love for you to share. What happened to you in 2011?
STARIn 2011 I was studying to take my NCLEX exam for my license in practical nursing. And I remember him coming in wanting to start an argument as usual. And from that point I didn't have any memory of everything else that took place. My 11-year-old daughter at that time had to share with me the remainder of what happened that night. We somehow ended up in her bedroom. And I was holding my one-year-old daughter in my arms and when I think back on it I'm thinking I may have ended up in my older daughter's bedroom with hopes of him visually seeing, "Hey, your daughters are around. Let's go ahead and stop this." But it didn't end that way.
STARWhile we were in my oldest daughter's bedroom, I was told I was standing on one side of her twin bed, which was closer to the wall. She was standing on the other side. And my ex-husband was right in front me. Somehow I was hit in the top part of my head with the bottom barrel of his 40 caliber handgun and then shot near my left temporal lobe.
NNAMDINow it's my understanding that you had seen that gun before. It's my understanding that that gun may even had been pointed at you before, but the trigger had never been pulled and you were not expecting that on this occasion.
STARCorrect. I definitely had it pulled out on me once before. I assumed just to put fear in me. So we learned that he did that to me that night was a huge surprise, but not a surprise, because of everything that I had gone through him my entire relationship with him. When he pulled that trigger my one-year-old dropped out of my arms. Fell to the floor and then my body then collapsed on top of hers. And he left the home.
NNAMDIWhat has your life been like since that time?
STARIt's been -- I want to say chaotic, but overtime it has gotten better. I know that I was in the hospital for approximately four, five months due to the damage that it caused to my head. I have a traumatic brain injury. It did shatter the left side of my face. So I had to undergo 16 surgeries overall to try to get things back as normal as possible. I do have the prosthesis. My left eye is a prosthetic eye. I have severe nerve damage where I don't have much feeling on that side. I've also lost hearing in my left ear. I'm still not able to open my mouth 100 percent, but it is better than it was originally from the physical therapy that they have taken me through for so many months.
STARI do also deal with depression, PTSD, insomnia, anxiety, panic attacks. So it's just been a process on getting myself through. But I feel right now today I'm so much better than I was.
NNAMDII find it interesting that I'm informed that you now work as an advocate for other victims of domestic abuse. Why did you choose to do that?
STARI chose to do that. Not something I thought that I'd be doing at this time of my life, but during my recovery my neuropsychologist, going to those appointments and she opened doors for me learning of the different resources I had within my area that I was not aware of at all. And me learning about those resources I began to have an interest in it wanting to give back. So I began volunteering. I also started volunteering as a peer visitor at our local hospital. The hospital that helped put me back together. Any type of patient that came in that experienced any gunshot wound I was their mentor to let them know, "You're still here and it's going to be okay." As my time continued to go on, I began to learn more about advocacy for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
STARSo I went through a training course for that and then I began volunteering through that particular shelter. And that just continued to open doors for me. And I'm now a patient advocate at the hospital, who helped save my life.
NNAMDIAnd from everything I hear, you love your job. You say it doesn't feel like work at all. So thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Star Myles of Richmond, Virginia, her former husband of 14 years shot her in the head one night during an argument. If you need help you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233. That's 800-799-7233. You can find more resources at our website kojoshow.org. Alana Wise, October is domestic violence awareness month. How common are stories like Star's of intimate partner gun violence?
WISEThat's one thing that kept coming up as a pretty recurrent theme in the course of our reporting. Many of the people we spoke to like Kate, like Star, like Tamira, who called in, were victims of intimate partner violence wherein there was a gun in the home. Very often we found that the gun was not one that was obtained legally in some instances, but there was a gun in the home and abuse that may have started out verbally or physically using hands and fists then escalates to gun violence. An estimated 900,000 women alive today have been shot or shot at by a partner, according to research from Dr. Sorenson, who cited in our story that it came out today on domestic gun violence.
WISESo it's a fairly common thing. It's not at all uncommon to know someone who is a victim of domestic violence and many homes have guns in them as Dr. Sorenson said. And very often those homes also have domestic violence in them.
NNAMDIHow much is being done as far as you know in this region to address domestic violence and to strengthen protections for survivors?
WISESo there are state resources. Obviously there are many resources in Maryland, Virginia, D.C. But there have also been attempts to implement legislation that would get guns out of the homes of known abusers. These are called Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Sometimes they're called red flag laws. D.C. has one on the books. Maryland has one on the books. And what it aims to do is to get the guns out of the hands of suspected dangerous people. So if you are someone in a home and you feel unsafe if you think that this person maybe has threatened you or you have reason to believe that they might be planning to harm you or themselves or someone else in any way you can file for an Extreme Risk Protection Order, and that gives police the ability to come in the home and remove firearms.
NNAMDINow these are what I call red flag laws, correct? And there's been some pushback against these red flag laws, hasn't there?
RANTARight. So, extreme risk protection orders, they have gained popularity in recent years. After Parkland, the number of states that had them doubled, but there is pretty significant pushback from a lot of gun rights organizations. People say that these laws could be abused, that they could have guns taken unfairly from the homes of lawful gun owners who maybe haven't done anything. People could be being vindictive, is what critics of the law say. So, it's kind of a very -- it's a tight rope that people are trying to balance, trying to keep up civil liberties, while also aiming to protect people from abusers.
NNAMDIWe got a Tweet from Venturous. My peacenik husband cruised by with a loaded rifle after I moved out. I could hear his car rumble by at 3:00 a.m. He found me after I moved. Fortunately, he never took further action. A mutual friend was able to confiscate the gun before someone was shot. In your case, Kate Ranta, your ex-husband kept finding you.
RANTAYes, he did. It's a complicated story about how everything went down, but he kept moving back up to Virginia, and then coming back down to Florida. And when he would come back to Florida, that's when things like home break-ins would happen. And he would do it when I wasn't home. So, even though I had a protective order, the police didn't ever do anything or violate him on the restraining order for breaking into my home. They couldn't prove it. That kind of stuff...
NNAMDI(overlapping) So, you feel like the whole system failed you?
RANTAOh, yeah. Yes, I do. Yes, I do, from law enforcement, to the judicial system, to child protective services, to the military. All across the board, it was like he was given all of this leeway, all of this leeway. And I was looked at as a hysterical wife or, you know, that I loved drama or something, and that I wasn't just trying to protect myself and my family. He was just given the benefit of the doubt, constantly. And, in the end, you know, he tried to murder us. And it was only after that that all the systems then decided to kick in and work for us.
NNAMDIAlana, I'm wondering, in your coverage, how often did you see that, that people who were survivors of domestic violence, who felt that, in some way, shape or form, the system had failed them?
WISEWell, Kate's case was particularly interesting in that she had tried so many times to keep her then-husband away from her. But one thing that came up even more -- interestingly, enough -- was that, very often, people would describe feeling ashamed that they were being abused, feeling frightened to reach out and seek help. It wasn't something that they were willing to talk about, happy to talk about, because of these deeply rooted feelings of shame surrounding their own abuse.
NNAMDIHere now is Linnell, on Capitol Hill. Linnell, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LINNELLI just want to first say how courageous and outstanding and wonderful the work is that these ladies are doing, because as a volunteer now for Moms Demand Action, the relationship between access of guns and domestic abuse is so high in our country. My story does not involve domestic abuse, but it is the story that really made me passionate about doing advocacy for sensible gun legislation.
NNAMDIWhat is your story?
LINNELLWell, I lived in Washington, D.C. years ago. My children were born here. I was living on Capitol Hill. And right away, we, you know, experienced a lot of gun violence in the neighborhood, you know, every couple of weeks, shots. And we saw things happening across the street. But we stayed. It was our first home. We were here.
LINNELLOne night, I was mugged at gunpoint and spent quite a few minutes on my knees in front of a very hyped-up young man with his gun pointed at my face. He was almost inarticulate in even asking what he wanted. So, I thought for sure that I would be dying in those moments. I'm a veteran, so as a veteran, I didn't have probably the same kind of fear level that some people might have. Not because I was trying to do anything, but just because having been around guns, I knew how dangerous they were, and kind of accepted that this might be my end.
LINNELLIt wasn't, and I went home that night, and we lived in fear. I lived in fear for the rest of the time I was in D.C. It forced my family...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Is that what caused you to leave Washington?
LINNELLIt did. It caused my husband and I, myself, very much in favor of fleeing the city, which we regretted, because...
NNAMDIWhat made you decide to come back?
LINNELL...the suburbs weren't that great. (laugh)
NNAMDI(laugh) So, you decided to come back.
LINNELLBut now we're back.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing your story. And you say you work with Moms Demand Action. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about “Shattered: Life After Being Shot,” what happens to people who are survivors of gun violence and their lives after that. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the series “Shattered: Life After Being Shot” with the Guns and America collaboration and WAMU. Joining us now by phone is Samuel Gordon. Samuel Gordon is a clinical psychologist at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital. He helped start the hospital's urban reentry group 25 years ago. Dr. Gordon, thank you for joining us.
SAMUEL GORDONThank you. Good afternoon.
NNAMDIWhat can you tell us about this reentry group?
GORDONWell, it's a group for young African American males, which started 25 years ago, so some of them are not as young now as they were then, (laugh) who had survived, you know, violence, usually gunshot wounds, primarily spinal cord injury and brain injuries, leaving them paralyzed in one way or another. These are individuals who primarily were from the inner city streets of Washington, D.C., and some references made to the shootings that were going on, you know, that may have left some individuals to leave the city.
GORDONThese individuals -- especially back in the late '80s and early '90s and up through the 2000s -- didn't have that option. They had to, after entering the hospital and going through medical rehabilitation to get them to be able to function out in society in wheelchairs, had to go back to those same streets where they were shot. And, therefore, they sort of suffered some of the same kind of psychological conditions that were referenced, some of the PTSD, their anger at the assailants who shot them. That can also spread to their families and medical professionals who were telling them that they'd never be able to walk again, but they were still going to be forced to go back to those streets.
GORDONThe families who may have not been able to sort of take care of them the way that they wanted to, girlfriends and, you know, significant others who could no longer tolerate staying with them. Some of them had some anger issues even prior to being shot, and obviously, they've even contributed to them being shot.
GORDONAnd, obviously, the depression goes along with losing not only your ability to walk, but also a lot of bodily functions that go along with having a spinal and a brain injury, and certainly the freedom to be able to get in and out of places.
NNAMDIWhat motivated you to do this?
GORDONAt that time, there were very few, you know, rehab professionals who were really sensitive to the unique issues of African American males in the inner city. And, therefore, when we brought them into the hospital, we expected them to sort of acclimate to our culture of, you know, getting up early in the morning and going through this regimented series of physical occupational therapies and, you know, listening to doctors who would say, you know, you do this the way I tell you to do it, and, you know, just basically follow orders.
GORDONAnd, therefore, there was a lot of clash there, and I knew these individuals primarily because I also grew up, you know, in the city, in New York and South Bronx and Harlem. But I shared some of their similar kind of cultural background. I can also say there but for the grace of God go I, and I knew these individuals were going through it. And it was the whole idea of trying to reach them, and I know they needed that same kind of human contact that even the majority culture was receiving from the primarily white professionals that were treating them.
NNAMDIAnd ever since you first started this, how have you seen the group change over time?
GORDONOne of the obvious changes is just that they've got older, but what we've also seen is they've gained from being really angry at society and the culture that they were living in. They've actually morphed into some individuals who really care about giving back to the community, including individuals who've been more recently injured. They've also had a big stake in trying to help young youth who, you know, may have similar kind of backgrounds, and trying to encourage them not to follow into the same pitfalls of the streets that led them to become disabled.
NNAMDII'd like to bring Cory Davis in on this conversation, because Cory Davis is one of the mentors. He's been in a wheelchair since 1999, when a physical altercation ended with a gunshot. In the 20 years since then, he's become a mentor to many of these young men in Dr. Gordon's urban reentry group. Cory Davis, thank you for joining us.
CORY DAVISThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAs a mentor to some of these young men, what do you tell them when they start feeling overcome by their new life in a wheelchair?
DAVISI mean, the first thing you can tell them is when you first -- well, when they first enter the national rehabilitation hospital, I mean, if you see them, all you can do is show support and let them know, you know, say everything will be okay. And, you know what I'm saying, if you need someone to talk to, you can come to me anytime. Because we all know that when you first get in a situation like this, some people -- a lot of people have suicidal thoughts. You know what I'm saying? And that's not a good thing, because when you become paralyzed, you think, well, sometimes your family might not be there, your friends might not be there, and you just don't have nothing to live for.
DAVISBut when you have guys like me that've been in a wheelchair 20-plus years and other guys that I, you know, used to hang around, you know what I'm saying, that we, you know what I'm saying, (unintelligible). We talk to this about -- we try to encourage them to just take life one day at a time, because this is your life now, and you have to live it. So, you can't -- I mean, you can't just stay depressed all your life. Because if you stay depressed all your life, all you're going to do is fail in life.
DAVISI mean, it comes and goes when you deal with the depression, because, I mean, I still get it every now and then, as far as being in a situation. I been in the chair 20 years. There might be a time when I'm thinking about, okay, well, if this wouldn't have happened, I wouldn't be like this, or if that wouldn't have happened, I wouldn't be like this. The only thing I can do is do something else or try to do something else to...
NNAMDIKeep moving forward.
DAVISYeah, exactly, to keep moving forward, you know what I'm saying, because like I said before, it's your life now. And you don't want to stop your life.
NNAMDIThat's right. Sam Gordon, how do you think this group has influenced the lives of the men who participate in it?
GORDONI would probably say it's sort of allowed them to mature in a positive way. As Cory just mentioned, it sort of gives them a purpose in life, a way to give back. And rather than giving up and seeing life as being over, I mean, many of these individuals, I would probably say, probably growing up in the city at those times when they were young, they thought their lives would either end in death or in jail. And, unfortunately, the wheelchair and paralysis is sort of kind of a mixture of both. You know, it's sort of somewhat part of their bodies are no longer functioning the same way that they were before. And they are sort of, in some ways, are imprisoned by the wheelchair.
GORDONHowever, I think, as Cory said earlier, being able to speak with other individuals going through similar kind of fates and sort of encouraging each other, somehow, it becomes invigorating. For some of them, it's even given them a purpose in life that they may not have had before.
GORDONIndividuals have then been more committed to, you know, their roles as fathers and certainly being more respectful towards, you know, women in particular, the mothers in their lives as they are growing up and sort of realized that even the mothers of their children have had to sort of be, in some ways, single mothers with their limited participation. But still, again, they try to do their best to at least make a contribution on that front, as well.
NNAMDIAlana Wise, you've been covering gun violence in the District, where there's been an uptick in homicides. What have you found in your reporting?
WISEAs you mentioned, there has been a pretty dramatic rise in homicides this year, over last year. And last year actually had a 40 percent rise in homicides over that year prior. What we're seeing is that officials are really blaming the use of illegal guns for a lot of these instances. But one thing that people in the community are really pushing for is increased funding to try to help get on the ground and stop this violence, increased participation of violence interrupters, which Mayor Bowser has recently invested more money into funding.
WISEAnd, a lot of times, the victims of these shootings very often, as Dr. Gordon mentioned, are people who are quite young, people who otherwise have their entire lives ahead of them. We've heard about several children this year who have been shot, people under the age of 17, several of whom have been killed. So, it's a situation on the ground where deadly violence is increasing, all the while, while officials are touting an overall decrease in what they call violent crime, despite the rise in homicides.
NNAMDISamuel Gordon, why is group therapy like this -- particularly for these individuals who have survived gun violence, in your view -- important?
GORDONWell, I think group and social connection is important for all of us. And what the group therapy does for these individuals is sort of also provide them a peer group that they can't get back in the community. Most of the individuals in the group still have friends who, you know, they grew up with here in Washington, D.C. that they will still associate with. But few, if any, of those friends can maybe even relate to that at the level that their peers in the group can.
GORDONWhile, in the community, they have sort of put forth a front -- I shouldn't say front -- at least face of being strong and being able to still associate. They can't go into individuals' homes the way they used to. They can't get into certain, you know, arenas that may not be as accessible. And even if they could, these individuals who they may be associated with, their lifelong friends may not be able to relate to them the same way individuals in the group can, who've been through what they've been through and what they're going through.
NNAMDIDeonte Gay was one of 11 survivors of gun violence profiled in the WAMU series 'Shattered." Here he is talking about the impact of that incident in the years since then.
DEONTE GAYMy circle is smaller. I have real friends around me. I have real people around me. My life changed for the better. I take these 10 years over a lot in my life. Like, I'd take these 10 years, these been the best 10 years, because I got to travel, I got to ski, I got to water ski, I got to play sports. Like, they gave me a new life, and this, like, my rebirthing, this is the best thing that happened to me.
NNAMDISamuel Gordon, when you hear a story like that, what do you say?
GORDONYeah, Deonte's one of our, you know, examples of individuals who've taken advantage of the community reentry options with the spinal cord injury groups. Our Recreational Therapy Department, you know, make available to persons with disabilities adaptive sports. And I think he also sort of represents what the groups sort of represent, just sort of tremendous, you know, spirit, human spirit that says, we're going to sort of figure out how to adapt.
GORDONThey won't admit that, yes, they will get all of those emotions that Cory mentioned earlier, but they don't stay there. They're sort of able to sort of transform what would seem to be a devastating blow -- it was a devastating blow to their lives. And it's the title of “Shattered Lives” in the lives of them, as well. But they've done a real great job in sort of, you know, putting that together.
NNAMDIRunning out of time. Samuel Gordon, Cory Davis, thank you both so much for joining us. Tyrone Turner, I want to talk about these portraits that you've done again. In particular, I know there are two you'd like to discuss. Tell us first about Sergio Hill.
TURNERSo, I met Sergio in doing a previous project. I had photographed him, and I was really struck by when he talked about having been shot the first time, and about that, but really about how he described knowing so many people who had been shot and killed. You know, he said, like, 50 or 60 people. And he was so honest, and so, you know, he was so honest in describing how he grew up and what it was like in his neighborhood.
TURNERAnd so he was the first person that I photographed. You know, talking to him and getting him to tell his story, I really felt like I needed to do a very powerful portrait of him in his neighborhood, kind of with that ambiance. And I used the stitch technique and shot, you know, all his pictures, and then put the portrait together. And I was really proud of that.
NNAMDIWe have an audio from an interview with Sergio. Here it is.
SERGIO HILLI know a lot of people that got shot, too, though, and it's just crazy. Like, is this a normal thing in my neighborhood, like, to get shot? Then it's like it don't even get you the type of respect that you think you should get from you getting shot, because the rules are so mixed up in the neighborhoods. Like, how we used to think, well, if you got shot and you survived, or you a real (beep) or you're a gangster or you're a thug. Especially if you ain't no snitch or you go -- when I grew up I started thinking a different way like (beep) this ain't cool, getting shot, nd having people respect you because you got shot or you done shot a lot of people. You know what I'm saying? It could be the other way around.
NNAMDITyrone, I want to talk a little bit about how the stories behind these individuals like Sergio influenced the portraits themselves. Earlier in the program, we heard from Star Myles, who was shot by her husband in 2011. And you heard what she had to say, but can you tell us -- what can you tell us about Star's portrait?
TURNERWell, every time we would meet the participants in this project, we would -- Alana and I would go to this person's house, like Kate's house or Star's, and sit down and have a lengthy talk with them, a lengthy interview. We would talk to them, along with record the interview. And so, in doing that, I really needed to hear the story and really get to know the person a little bit before doing the portrait.
TURNERAnd after kind of taking that in, taking their story in, I would get an idea for, you know, exactly what I needed to do. And in Star's case, you know, where she was shot, her wound was in her head, in her left temple. And so what I was really kind of thinking of is not as much of the ambiance or the environment, like with Sergio's, but more kind of focusing in on her face and how strong she was. And so, just finding a nice piece of light and putting her in that situation, sitting her down and having her sit while I, you know, proceeded to do all these -- the pictures.
TURNERAnd so, later on, I sat down at the computer, and with Photoshop, I started to put together this composite. And I, you know, manually put the pictures together and, you know, her portrait comes to life, basically.
NNAMDIFascinating. You can find Alana and Tyrone's work “Shattered: Life After Being Shot” at WAMU.org/shattered. The second installment of the series was published earlier today. And, of course, starting tomorrow you'll be able to put your hands on Kate Ranta's book. It's called "Killing Kate: A Story of Turning Abuse and Tragedy into Transformation and Triumph." Kate Ranta, thank you so much for being here.
NNAMDIAlana, in the 30 seconds or so we have left, are there any particular stories that resonated with you about this, or did they all?
WISEAnd that's the thing, there are so many different, unique incidences of gun violence. Everybody's story is different, and it's something that I think the main takeaway is that these things are happening all over the place. There is no particular portrait, or there's no cut-and-dry copy of what a gun violence survivor looks like or what a potential gun violence victim looks like. And that's something that I found really interesting and really jarring in the course of this project.
NNAMDIAlana Wise is a reporting fellow with Guns and America, a public radio collaboration focused on the role of guns in American life. Tyrone turner is Visuals Editor at WAMU. Thank you both for joining us.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, D.C.'s first-ever open streets event will shut down three miles of Georgia Avenue this weekend to make room for alternative modes of transportation. The director of DDOT will be here to give us the details. And we'll meet the authors of a new book that takes a close look at Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's student days here in the Washington region. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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