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Teen Survivors of Gun Violence Confront Deeper Wounds

By Darryl Holliday | July 2, 2013 6:55am
 Lawrence Sellers and Donald Murphy survived gun wounds but face emotional injuries in the aftermath.
Teen Survivors of Gun Violence Confront Deeper Wounds
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SOUTH SHORE — Donald Murphy saw the shooter in the red sedan fire at a man across the street.

The 14-year-old was coming from basketball practice on March 25. He was directly across the street from his Austin home when the red car made an abrupt U-turn.

He broke into a sprint down North Avenue, heading for safety when the bullet pierced his back and a lung before exiting his chest.

“I thought I was gonna die. [The blood] was coming out like Kool-Aid," he said with a short laugh, pointing at the corner store, not 20 feet from where he stood in his doorway. "I felt dizzy. There was pressure everywhere.”

According to Donald and his mother, Rosie Griffin, the teen has been recovering since that day, but surviving a gunshot wound has come with a new set of challenges.

 Tanya Sellers said her son Lawrence, a 17-year-old who was shot along with slain teen, Hadiya Pendleton, is facing symptoms of PTSD that keep him up at night.
Tanya Sellers said her son Lawrence, a 17-year-old who was shot along with slain teen, Hadiya Pendleton, is facing symptoms of PTSD that keep him up at night.
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DNAinfo/Darryl Holliday

"We can't really go nowhere," Griffin said with one eye on her son. “He’s nervous — if someone is behind him, he’s nervous. He hasn’t been in school, and he was in school every day.”

Donald was a few feet away, walking toward the corner store, when a panicked look set in his mother's face, and she yelled for him to come back. He stopped and pointed to a police car parked nearby before asking if he could talk to a friend across the street.

Griffin said she lost her job at Corner Bakery during the three months of her son's rehabilitation, which included medical visits, hospital bills, the search for a home-school teacher and a five-day stint at a psychiatric institution.

She said the 14-year-old Leslie Lewis Elementary School student has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“He cussed me out one day, and he never did that," she said of the young teen — the middle of five siblings — who loves basketball. "It’s like my child done lost his childhood. He’s traumatized through this.

"Don’t get me wrong — he had attitude before —but he never had a situation. Now he's still paranoid. He's changed," Griffin said.

It's a similar story with Lawrence Sellers, a 17-year-old King College Prep student who was shot Jan. 29.

Lawrence survived the shooting, but his friend, 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, did not.

Despite surviving a shooting that made national headlines, Lawrence and his mother, Tanya Sellers, said that the physical injury has left a larger emotional wound.

“I always imagined it being more painful, like on TV,” he said. “You know that feeling when you hit your elbow on a table? It’s that tingly feeling.

"The pain came about a half hour later," he said.

Lawrence was referring to the bullet that cut through his lower leg and exited the other side. It was a bullet he stepped in front of to protect his girlfriend, Darnisha Stevenson — a 17-year-old who sat beside him and his mom near their South Shore home several months after Lawrence and Hadiya were shot in Kenwood's Harsh Park.

Sellers said he can still picture Hadiya. He has trouble sleeping because of frequent nightmares.

"Sometimes when I hear loud sounds, it replays," he said. "It pops up in my head at random times — every time I think about it, it hurts.”

“We don’t go back to the park," Sellers added. "I haven’t been back since and I don’t plan on going ever again.”

Lawrence has also been diagnosed with PTSD, his mother said. Both Lawrence and Donald are in treatment for the post-shooting trauma.

Last year, about 11 percent of Chicago's 506 murder victims were under the age of 18.

Of the 176 homicides this year, 25 were under the age of 18 — about 14 percent — the majority of whom were Chicago Public Schools students.

Though CPS psychologists can diagnose certain mental illnesses, including PTSD, CPS officials said the district does not track reports of PTSD in schools.

“[Lawrence's] school counselor said he has survivor’s remorse, which is dangerous," his mother said. "It’s not ‘it should’ve been me,’ but more, ‘why her?’ He’s angry, not confrontational, but angry.”

Sellers recounted the day she almost lost her son, whom she adopted, along with his biological sister, in 1996.

“Your mind goes to the worst-case scenario," she said. "The only thing that gave me ease was when I got Lawrence on the phone.”

The ensuing months involved home care for the wound, which became swollen with dark "bruised blood" that required daily draining. Sellers said she now is unemployed due to injury.

Insurance coverage allowed her to care for her son nearly full-time. But some of Lawrence's emotional injuries are beyond her reach, his mother said.

"He says, ‘I keep seeing her lying on the ground," she said. "He may be fully healed physically, but the emotional scar is there.”

At this time last year, Chicago police had responded to 1,071 shootings involving at least one person. According to Adam Collins, a Chicago Police Department spokesman, that number had dropped 25 percent as of late June, with 801 incidents for 2013.

"While to date we've had fewer shooting incidents this year and fewer murders than any year since the mid-1960s, there's more work to be done and we won't rest until everyone in Chicago enjoys the same sense of safety," Collins said.

Sellers said that current levels of violence will not make her or her family feel any safer.

Both she and Griffin said they have plans to move their children out of the city.

“This summer is not gonna be pretty. Too many people don’t have anything and will take from others," Sellers said. "The atmosphere is too volatile right now. But we have too much going for us to be the murder capital of children.”