"I Thought I Was Dying": One Gun Violence Survivor's Story

Growing up in Louisville’s West End made me no stranger to gun violence. I remember times when I was sitting outside on the porch or maybe laying down in the house and all of a sudden, gunshots would ring out. As I got older, hearing gunshots started to become normal. This should NEVER be normal for anyone. I’ve had family and friends killed due to gun violence, but I never thought I would become an actual victim myself. However, this fantasy wouldn’t last.

On March 29, 2017, I entered a convenience store a little after 7:00 pm. It was one of Louisville’s nicer days which created an atmosphere for people to be outside. Before entering the store, I made a mistake that many of us have done-- I left my car running, thinking I would be in and out of the store relatively quickly. I was in the store for about 60 seconds or less, when I came back out, I was presented with a surprising situation. I noticed a guy in my driver’s seat attempting to pull away in my car. During this period of my life, I carried a gun regularly. So my initial reaction was to pull out my gun and stop the thief from taking what was rightfully mine;.  However, that didn’t happen. As I focused all of my attention on the guy inside of my car, I didn’t notice that there were three other people looking out for him over to my right side.

As soon as I pulled my gun out and cocked it back, the thief’s lookouts started shooting at me. I felt something pierce the right side of my chest and I instantly fell, landing on my back. In the process of falling, I dropped my gun, but it landed about two feet away from me. At this point, I was still hearing gunshots, but I didn’t know exactly where they were coming from. I picked up my gun and started shooting at my car as the guy was driving away. I hit my car multiple times, but luckily, I didn’t hit anything else.

Whitney Austin and Terrell Williams

Whitney Austin and Terrell Williams

The gunshots eventually stopped, and I believed it was all over. I attempted to get up off the ground and was stuck. In my head, I didn’t know what was going on. I thought I was dying. In reality, the bullet went through my lung, hit my spine, and exited through my back. I was instantly paralyzed from the waist down. Yet, the surprises weren’t over.

As I’m wiggling my upper body trying to stand up, the gunfire returned. However, this time the shots were a lot closer and I could see the bullets bouncing off the ground all around me. The guy who was in my car wrecked on the sidewalk and decided he no longer wanted the car. What he did want to do was kill me.

As he exited the vehicle, he started walking down on me shooting several times. Out of the more than eight shots that he attempted to murder me with, only one hit me-- the last one. This bullet entered the right side of my neck and got stuck in the left side of my chin. At this point, I figured playing dead was my best option. I waited about 20 seconds before I would try to move again. When I did finally decide to move again, I immediately started praying. In my mind, I thought I had 30 seconds left until I would be dead. I repeatedly started saying, “God, please take care of me!”. Blessed, I didn’t die. In a sense, this was the start of a new life… MY new life.

Ever since that day, I’ve never been the same. I easily could’ve died on the concrete ground that day, but unlike many other gun violence victims-- I survived. I overcame. I knew right then that I couldn’t waste my second chance at life. Early on in my recovery phase I joined a program known as Pivot to Peace (PTP). With the help of PTP, I was able to develop a plan to stay safe, build conflict management skills, regain my ambition, and reintegrate back into my community. PTP is one of the main reasons I am on a path to success today.

It took me a while to find out exactly what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, but I eventually found a sense of direction. The number one cause of death for black males ages 15-34 is homicide. I almost became a part of this statistic. While homicides include multiple weapons, the majority of weapons used are firearms. We must prevent these unnecessary deaths. We must stop all types of gun violence. Gun violence affects a slew of people: directly and indirectly. I won’t be satisfied until we put an end to the devastating gun violence crisis in the U.S.