After a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, claimed the lives of 14 people in December, the mayor of the city set up a GoFundMe campaign for the victims’ families and for the 22 others injured in the shooting. The campaign raised more than $100,000, some of which will help aid the survivors who now face an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for medical care and rehabilitative services.
Outside of mass shootings, few fatal incidents of gun violence generate media attention; even less attention is paid to those wounded. More than 86,000 people survive shootings each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many of them find that the cost of treating myriad mental and physical traumas can dwarf what’s covered by health insurance or disability. To help offset these financial burdens, some gunshot survivors have turned to GoFundMe to set up fundraisers of their own.
The six campaigns below show how the hidden costs of gun violence can extend far beyond standard medical treatment and include special needs like therapy dogs or wheelchair vans — and how health problems can linger for years after a person has been shot.
In 1991, Margaret Long was walking home from her 20th birthday party in Cincinnati, Ohio, when her boyfriend’s father shot her in the neck. She thinks he was in the neighborhood trying to close a drug deal for his son. When she woke up in the hospital, she learned she had suffered a spinal cord injury that left her paralyzed from the waist down. It would take over two months of rehabilitative therapy for her to relearn how to talk, eat, and hold a pencil. She would never walk again.
Since then, Long has faced a gauntlet of hurdles every time she ventures out. To get to her many doctors’ appointments, she has to schedule a pick-up with a medical bus 24 hours in advance. There are some places the medical bus doesn’t go, and for those trips she uses a van service. The rare times when she’s able to board a public bus, she says, she’s heard able-bodied passengers mutter things like, “These damn wheelchairs, they take up so much time. We have to get where we’re going.”
In 2014, Margaret started a GoFundMe page, asking for $20,000 to buy a van designed to ferry passengers in wheelchairs. She tells The Trace the vehicle would make it easier to see her doctors and attend the gun violence prevention rallies where she’s often invited to speak. The work is especially important to her — one of her nephews was killed in a shooting, and another nephew survived being shot by an AK-47.
MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT
In July 2010, Tommy Kidder, then 17, rode his bike to a friend’s house in Spring Hill, Florida, to play video games. Kidder had been there for around 15 minutes when one of the boys pulled out a Smith and Wesson .38, which he had stolen from an unlocked Jeep down the street. The boy pointed the gun at Kidder and yelled, “Freeze, Motherf—–!” Then he shot him through the right temple.
Kidder recovered from the shooting in time to graduate high school with honors less than a year later. But since then he’s experienced a painful series of medical complications. Spinal fluid leaked into his brain. Blood clots caused shortness of breath and heart problems. Just as debilitating as the physical injuries are the psychological issues that surfaced in the aftermath of the shooting.
On his GoFundMe page, Kidder’s mother says that her son became wracked by panic attacks and crippling anxiety. He also became “uncontrollably” obsessed with death. Kidder began to suspect that food and the medications he was prescribed could trigger fatal reactions. For months, he didn’t take his anxiety pills, and he didn’t eat or drink anything but bottled water, which caused him to lose over 60 pounds. Doctors feared his organs would shut down.
Kidder was hospitalized for 15 weeks to treat his anorexia. The stays, which weren’t fully covered by insurance, left his family buried in debt. His mother says the $1,000 they’ve raised so far has given the family a “small breather” as doctors continue to treat her son.
PHYSICAL THERAPY EQUIPMENT
In January 2014 Edward Patterson, then 24, visited Richmond, California, to pick up a cousin at a basketball game. The game was in a gang neighborhood known for gun violence. Patterson was sitting in his car when he spotted a man pacing the block with his young son. Moments later, a green Jeep pulled up beside Patterson’s car and opened fire on the stranger and the boy. When Patterson saw that the shooter was aiming at the boy and not his father, he instinctively got out and jumped between the boy and the gunfire. He took a bullet in his spine, paralyzing him from the waist down. “I figured it was either me or him, and I wasn’t about to watch a person die right in front of me for the second time.”
The first person Patterson watched die was his little brother, “D,” who was five years old when he was shot in the head by a drug dealer. “I said, ‘Wake up, D! Wake up!’” Patterson recalls. The moment replayed in his mind when he saw the gunman fire at the Richmond boy.
Since he was shot, Patterson has been in and out of several hospitals. Doctors have told him that 70 percent of the muscle in his leg is nearly dead, and that the remaining muscle might also die without proper physical therapy. Patterson hopes to raise enough money to purchase a leg stand and a physical therapy bicycle, to help keep the tissue active. He hopes someday he can walk again.
Kristina Sue Dines had a protection order against her ex-husband, but that didn’t prevent him from returning to her house last June with a 12-gauge shotgun. Dines and her friend escaped the through a bedroom window and ran towards the fence in the backyard. Dines’s ex fatally shot her friend as she climbed over the fence, while Dines was shot in the abdomen.
Dines, who was in a coma for two months, lost several toes and parts of her liver and intestine. Since leaving the hospital, the mother of four has been unable to work, and her application for disability remains on hold. She created a campaign to help her get back on her feet.
Some families who live in dangerous neighborhoods are looking to relocate before one of their loved ones get shot. Their crowdfunding campaigns seek help for the cost of a move, which even within the same state can average more than $1,000.
Take the McGees, who live in Seattle, Washington. Sharice McGee says they moved into a bad neighborhood because, “it’s all that our money and bad credit can afford.” When gunfire rings out, her five children rush back into the apartment. McGee reported a shooting on her building’s stairway on Christmas Eve. “I’m terrified to even be in my own home,” she says. She’s raising money to move to a safer neighborhood.
Other families have watched quiet, tree-lined streets give way to drug activity and shootings. Last summer, Melanie Jakus heard six gunshots ring out in the middle of the night from her home in Avondale, Arizona, where she lives with her husband and three children. She and her husband have recently counted four incidents of gun violence within walking distance of their home, an indication of how much their neighborhood has changed. One of those shootings was closer to their home they thought: a bullet pierced through the wall between Jakus’s front door and her bedroom window. The family is raising money to break their lease so they, too, can relocate to somewhere safer.
THERAPY DOG CARE
Robert Cramer’s life was changed by two types of gun violence: A mass shooting and a suicide. The year before the massacre at Columbine, there was a similar mass shooting at a high school in Oregon. On May 21, 1998, an expelled student opened fire at Thurston High in Springfield, killing four people. Cramer, then 16, watched two of those students die right in front of him.
Cramer’s father, a deputy sheriff, responded to that shooting and led students past the carnage in the cafeteria and out of the school. Two months later, he committed suicide in his patrol car with his service revolver.
For most of the past 18 years since the two shootings, Cramer, beset by panic and post-traumatic stress disorder, isolated himself inside his home and medicated himself with street drugs. He’s been institutionalized five times and he estimates that he’s tried to take his own life almost ten times. Only recently has he begun to re-engage with the world, finding work, socializing, and dating.
Cramer says he owes much of his recovery to his therapy dog, Odin, a two-year-old black lab/collie mix. Odin wakes Robert up when he experiences night terrors and goes with him everywhere in public, helping to ameliorate a host of issues that might otherwise impede Cramer’s life. He’s had trouble holding onto a basic service industry job, since, he says, “I can’t really stand at a cash register with thousands of dollars in it and not think about being robbed at gunpoint.” When he’s out at dinner or a movie, Cramer instinctively identifies the exit paths. Because guns are a trigger for Cramer, Odin has been trained to detect them and usher him away from potential danger.
Odin has been so vital to his improvement that Cramer can’t imagine life without him. But Odin’s care is expensive. Cramer is raising money to help cover costs like food and immunization while he goes back to school and works. He says he’s still coping with the trauma — the recent Oregon college shooting sent him into a week-long breakdown — but with Odin by his side, he can try to lead a more stable life. “I want people to know I’m not crazy,” says Cramer. “I’m traumatized.”
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Van Brocklin.
[Photo: Robert Cramer; Illustrations: Joel Arbaje/Shutterstock]