Tammy “Visible Scars, Invisible Wounds”

Photography by    Randy Bacon

Photography by Randy Bacon

It was a dreary morning and before leaving my house for work, I grabbed a coffee, my laptop and walked to my car. As I was shutting my car door, that is when I glanced to my left and saw a person coming towards me. I recall thinking how short of stature she was compared to the light fixture on my garage. She was dressed in dark clothing and a mask which covered part of her face. I knew immediately the person was a female and had a sick feeling in my stomach that I knew this person was going to hurt me. My divorce hearing was scheduled for the following day, and I thought to myself, “Well, they did it. They got what they wanted.” They (meaning my soon to be ex-husband and his mother) wanted me out of the picture. There was just one shooter but two people voiced their hate at me more than once for wanting a divorce. As she raised the gun, I stared at her eyes, the color was hazel and very familiar to me, and thought her name to myself; I knew who it was. I couldn't react fast enough to start my car, but for that split second, I thought to myself, “This is the end of my life. I will never see my children again.” Then the first bullet went through the driver’s side window and hit me on the upper right side of my chest. The force of the bullet threw me back onto the back of the seat, and immediately I yelled out “God! God! Help me!” I knew at that very second the only way I was going to live was with God's help. No one else was around to save me, and I was trapped in this car. I felt like a caged animal, unable to escape.  

She walk to my driver side door and aimed the gun at my head. I immediately raised my left arm, which protected me from a bullet to my head, but the bullet hit my left arm, which fell limp after it was struck. I was trapped, and the only place I could go was in the back seat of my car because I was fearful how the next bullet would be to my head, and my arm would not be able to protect me this time. I screamed out to her and said “You know I have babies.” She didn’t utter a word and walked from the front driver side door to the driver side passenger door, where I laid now, and she continued to shoot me through that window until the last bullet was fired. I was lying in the back seat near my daughters American Doll, which was still buckled up from that morning when I dropped her off at school. I thought to myself, please don’t die Tammy. I then glanced back up at the shooter, my now ex-mother-in-law, who slowly turned and walked back the direction she came from. I lay there maybe not even ten seconds waiting on God to take me, but nothing happened. I was still alive, and I thought to myself, “If I'm not dying right now, then I need to try to get away.” I didn't want my daughters to be the first ones to find me dead. I was praying I would survive long enough to get down the road, so someone else would discover my body and not my daughters. I prayed again to God to help me. Somehow, I felt an unexplainable peace in the moment.

Maybe within a couple of seconds, I was able (God's doing) to get back in the front seat where I prayed again to God that the car would start, and it did! I backed up the car and didn’t even look to see if the shooter was coming back to finish me off. I just kept praying and saying God’s name to help me over and over. Before I proceeded down the hill, I pushed on my car horn and did not let up. Not only did the noise keep me calm, but I was praying someone would hear it and come help me. I drove to the bottom of my driveway, and my arms and legs, not to mention my breathing - started to fail me, so I prayed to get to a place where someone would help me. If I were to describe the pain from being shot, I would say it would be similar to if someone took a firecracker that had just been lit, and shoved it into my body, which continuously had a burning sensation that I’ve never felt before.   

Tammy Shipp-007.jpg

After driving for a couple of miles, I found myself at my daughter's elementary school, where I couldn't even put my car in park. I couldn't move either arm or legs anymore, and it was by the grace of God that he allowed some of my body to function until I got to the school safely. The staff came running out, and the secretary put my car in park. It seemed like an eternity, but finally, the ambulance/EMT showed up, but were unable to transport me by Air Evac due to the weather, so we had to drive ninety miles to the closest trauma center. The entire ninety mile drive, all I could think was how I may die and never see my children again.

By the grace of God, I made it to the hospital and was greeted by a team of doctors, nurses, and a priest, who immediately asked me if I knew God and if I was saved, and I responded YES! After x-ray after x-ray and CAT scan, they prepared me for surgery. My two oldest children were brought into the room shortly before going into surgery. However, before they came in, I asked a nurse if they would wipe my tears, and that if I had any mascara that ran, if they could wipe that too, so my children wouldn't know I had been crying. I also asked if I could be covered up, so they wouldn't see the blood, and if there was blood on the floor, if they could have someone mop it... It’s crazy to think now that I was concerned with blood on the floor, but all I could think about and was worried about was how this scene would scare the kids. I wanted to protect them and let them know I was going to be ok. Isn't that what moms do? I was thinking to myself, “Do I tell my son to take care of his sisters if I don’t make it? Or do I continue reassuring them that I was fine? But what if this is the last time I ever see them?” There was so much I wanted to tell them, but they quickly came to get me for surgery, so I just told them how I love them and that I was going to be OK.

The last thing I recall was going into the OR and seeing maybe a dozen medical professionals and the room was so bright! The last person I saw and voice I heard was from my anesthesiologist, who tried to comfort me, but the only thing I was thinking was how I didn't want to fall asleep. I was so worried I wouldn't wake back up. What felt like a matter of seconds of being placed on the OR table, I was out. I woke up the next day in the neuro-trauma unit, and strangely enough, I looked for my soon to be ex-husband. Maybe I wanted reassurance that he didn’t have anything to do with the shooting, but he was nowhere in sight. My immediate family was by my side, and little did I know that I had eleven entrance/exit wounds on my body. My surgeon told me how he had been doing trauma surgery for over thirty years, and I’m his twelfth patient he could say was a miracle. He said that one bullet missed femoral artery by a hair, and that the bullet landed “perfectly” inside of my colon. He said if it had exited the colon, I would have a colostomy bag for the rest of my life. I say it was by the grace of God that I survived. Many people have said that she was a bad shot or if she would have used a different gun it would have turned out differently, but I truly believe God saved my life, and I have purpose. It was over three and a half years before the case went to trial and she was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.  

Tammy Shipp-003.jpg

While I was in the hospital for the first couple of weeks I first refused antidepressant medications, sleeping pills, and anything which altered my thinking, other than the morphine which helped ease the pain. I thought to myself, “I've got this. How hard is it not to be sad or be depressed, I'm alive! I should be the happiest person on earth. I was saved by God! How could I even shed a tear?” But I did eventually cry many times. I also found that I no longer was in control of my life or my body, which made me feel helpless. I was not in control on the day of the shooting, nor was I in control now of my body. I had to rely on the medical staff and family to help me with everything that I had done for myself before. They immediately wanted me to walk, which was so difficult and painful. Parts of my body, including my legs and arms wouldn't move or would barely move, and I had to have assistance. I couldn't even brush my hair or teeth for the first couple of weeks. It's hard to explain until you have been through something like this, but it's almost a relief when you know you don't have control, and you never did. Why didn't I let God do his job years ago!!

For the weeks and months after getting released from the hospital, I still struggled with sleep and since I refused to take medication to sleep, I would just pray and my words I spoke to God were, “Please control my thinking”. I would find myself saying his name over and over in my head until my thoughts of that day went away, and I could fall asleep. Another feeling that didn’t and wouldn’t go away was the sadness I felt, and I started having panic attacks for no reason at all. I had never experienced panic attacks before and had only read about them, and now I was experiencing them. I would cry at the drop of a hat, and the memories from April 13th wouldn't go away. They played in my head like a movie, over and over and over again. Why couldn't I just stop that movie from playing? Why wouldn't the panic attacks go away? I mean, how hard is it to just tell your head to stop and think happy thoughts? Well, let me tell you, it's very hard and for the first two years, the “movie” played in my head every day, along with having panic attacks. I felt a sense of sadness, which was so heavy upon my chest, that I faked it most days to look happy. I was anxious walking to my car and getting inside of my car. I found myself looking around my surrounds and sometimes found myself seeing shadows of a person, who is not there.

From the outside, people would never know my pain. Many see me as the old Tammy, but how frightening it would be if they could see inside of me. It would look like a person hiding from the world, crawled up in a ball, in the corner of a dark room and unable to speak. It is so difficult some days to pretend to be this strong person. To pretend how I have it all together and I've got this, but I didn’t, not for the first three years. There were days I was so angry, so sad, and so mad at myself and at my ex mother-in-law. There were days I just wished someone could save me from this, and erase those memories, erase that day. I anxiously anticipated the day when I could stop pretending, and mastered this depression/sadness, and truly overcome this pain inside of my body. However, that day did come when I turned it over to God. I stood in front of the mirror, and didn’t recognize the person I had become. I not only have visible scars, but also invisible wounds. I've been identified and labeled with depression, PTSD and acute anxiety (terms I am very familiar with since I have my MSW), and ones I've been allowing to control my life since the shooting up until the trial, but I had to get it together for my children and for myself. I advised my counselor that I was stopping my medication, but would continue the therapy. I told her that I was ready to feel again and to start living. I’m determined to live my life for God and no longer be angry at the person who almost took my life. She almost took it once, and I won’t allow her to steal another second. I choose to live. I choose to be happy. I choose love over hate.

One of the hardest changes to endure was not going back home and the multiple moves that were to come. We built a home and now it was a crime scene. It wasn't a place of fond memories now. It was tainted by one's greed, anger, hatred, and jealousy. It was sad and hard to go back after I was released from the hospital. Many said how I shouldn't go back, but I had to. It made me sick to my stomach the first time I drove up to my driveway. Of course, I had a flashback from the shooting, but the real sadness was walking away from the house and the memories. This was my home that she walked up to and stole from us. This was my children's safe haven, and she took that from them. I was angry for what she did, but later I realized it was a blessing. It was just a house; composed of wood and cement and nails, but we are what make a home, and she can't and will never steal that from us. Finally after three and a half years, the case went to trial and she was found guilty. Those were the most beautiful words I had heard spoken in three and a half years, the next words were “Life in prison.” As my family and children sat in the courtroom, we cried; not tears of sadness, but tears of joy. It was finally over. One phrase I kept saying to myself throughout the past three and a half years, was “I’ve got this” and before it was just a phrase I said over and over...but I now believe - I’ve got this.

October 2018

Tammy Shipp-008.jpg

This story was prepared, written and submitted solely by Tammy in her personal capacity. The content and opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of 7 Billion Ones, Randy Bacon Photography and/or any members or associates of these organizations.