Kearria: I have been in Mobile all of my life. I went to school at Alabama A&M University. I was majoring in food science and minoring in marketing and wanted to work in a test kitchen with flavors. During my sophomore year, I went with my best friends to Panama City Beach for spring break. My parents finally let me go. We went to a house party with four of my friends and a guy came in and shot seven people. Three of us got shot. I was shot in the head. It was March 28, 2015, I don’t remember much from that trip or that night. The right side of my head was shattered into pieces and my right temporal lobe was removed. During surgery, I had a stroke and it paralyzed the left side of my body and the right side of my face. I couldn’t talk for five months or walk for two years. I relearned daily living tasks and still struggle. Life has moved on for my friends. They graduated from college and have children. I lost touch with some of my friends because they didn’t know what to do or say around me. I have to take my life day by day and slowly regain my independence.
Madonna: I got the call at 12:45 a.m. from Kearria’s phone, but it wasn’t Kearria calling. It was a friend saying they were at the hospital and Kearria was shot. My knees went down and I let out a moan my other daughter said she had never heard before. It sounded more like a wounded animal.
Keirria: I was in ICU for a month and was transferred to the Shepherd Center in Atlanta for three months. They specialize in spinal cord injuries and brain injuries. I came home and did more therapy at Providence Hospital. I took my first step there. I went back to the Shepherd Center two summers in a row for their Pathways and Beyond Therapy programs. We did outings to help me learn how to navigate again. I also did swim and music therapy. Since I couldn’t talk, I wrote notes to my mom to encourage both of us. One of those notes was ‘My purpose in life is to spread the gospel of the Lord.’ Mom told me God would give us the patience and strength to get through. There were days it was overwhelming and I wondered why me. The first day I saw myself in the mirror, it wasn’t the Kearria I knew.
Madonna: I didn’t hear about the Shepherd Center until about a week before she was discharged. The paperwork was set for her to do rehab in Mobile. The Shepherd Center has made all of the difference. They also had classes for the families for everything we needed to get through this. While she was in therapy, I was in classes. We still keep in touch with the nurses from the Shepherd Center. Her first day at the Shepherd center was harder for me than for her. The night before her first day, I held up a mirror for her to see herself for the first time. It was a shock and she said she was ugly. I told her we don’t use those words. She is beautiful inside and out. She wrote me a note and asking if we could go home. I told her you can go home, but you are going home with a tracheotomy, feeding tubes, and staples in your head. Or, you can stay here and let these people get you as close as they can to the Kearria you knew. You always have a choice in the matter. She wrote back, ‘We can stay.’ I told her we are going to cry and love on each other today, but we aren’t camping out in these feelings every day. Some days are going to be worse than others, and we will cry those days, but we aren’t having sad days every day. You can’t let him take your future as well. From that day on she pushed forward and didn’t cry even on the bad days. The good thing about being in a rehab hospital is that everyone is going through struggles. We watched get better, graduate, and leave. There was hope.
Keirria: I was so happy to leave. I reached most of the goals I set for myself, but there was a lot of work to do. They told me I would never walk again, but I am walking today. My mom recorded everything and I can see how far I have come. I am in school at the University of South Alabama and graduate next May. I graduated from Bishop State last May. My major is in now interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in human services. After that, I want to get my master’s in rehabilitation counseling. I can use my experience to help others and give them hope. I get help through student disability services. I can’t sit in a desk, I have to sit at a table. I need accommodations for tests and can have a scribe when needed. I have always seen my mama accomplish her goals, so I can do the same thing.
Madonna: I am so proud of her. She is a fighter and a go-getter. She doesn’t give up and pushes harder than I would have. She has the mental strength to keep going. We are working on daily living skills and doing more around the house. She got her driver’s license and we are getting modifications made to her car. I will follow her around for a while. I am having to back off on some of the things I have been doing the last five years. I am a mama bear and sent her into the world to thrive and become an adult. The shooting happened and I became more protective. I want to create a world where no one could hurt her. It is hard to let her go back into the world again. Dropping her off at Bishop State was so hard. The first day I snuck in just to make sure she got in okay.
Keirria: I received my service dog, Darling, in May 2019 from Canine Companions for Independence. She knows 40 different commands. She picks things off the floor. Opens and closes doors. Turns lights on and off. She gets things out of the refrigerator and dryer and pulls the wheelchair. I have had her for a year. She was provided free of charge.
Madonna: I never wanted a dog. Kearria always wanted a dog but when she asked for one when she was younger, I would get her a goldfish. There was no guarantee she would get a service dog. We were on a waiting list for two and a half years. It was well worth the wait. God has placed so many angels in our lives. There was a first responder who saved her life by giving her mouth to mouth. I didn’t realize that until this went to court. They stay in touch. We couldn’t ask for better caring people with good hearts. It was traumatizing, but there is still hope in the details of life.
Kearria: I am hard on myself because I believe in bigger and better things for my life. I know God will take me further than I can imagine. I volunteer at my mom’s school. I have spoken to groups about what I have gone through and the works of God. I also speak out against gun violence. It affects people and families on both ends. I have danced all of my life. I was captain of the flag team at LeFlore high school and was in two dance teams in college. Now I am over the youth praise dance group at church.
I am trying to start a non-profit to give grants to young adults for people with brain injuries because there are limited resources for people within that age group. I want to be a blessing to others. I wore a flower headband at Panama City and my mom found it and put it on me while I was in the hospital. She bought some for every outfit I had and they became my identity. In the hospital, I felt ugly, but my mom put a headband on me and I felt pretty and more confident. I started Pretty Girls Rock and make flower headbands. I donate them to hospitals to give out to women and girls to help them feel pretty during difficult times.
Madonna: I also want the non-profit to help the caregiver. There is so much stress on them and they need an outlet. I would love to give them a free night at a hotel. When I got a break, all I wanted to do was sleep. I slept on the couch the first month so I could hear Kearria I rotated her every three hours and didn’t get full nights of sleep. You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have. Pushing forward is the only option you have. We read the Bible and went to church every Sunday. I wondered what we did wrong for this to happen to us. Then I heard about a man in Maysville who was shot in the leg and died. I realized we are here for a purpose. Now we have to make the most of it.
Kearria: I didn’t understand why this happened to me, but I was never angry at God. He has a bigger purpose for me. I received so much love and support from my family. I didn’t know the guy who shot me. They say he was on drugs. He is in Florida serving seven consecutive life sentences. I pray that God has forgiven him. I have forgiven him.