The True Cost of Gun Violence in America
The data the NRA doesn't want you to see.
—By Mark Follman, Julia Lurie, Jaeah Lee, and James West on Wed. April 15, 2015 6:00 AM PDT
I t was a mild, crystal clear desert evening on November 15, 2004, when Jennifer Longdon and her fiance, David Rueckert, closed up his martial-arts studio and headed out to grab some carnitas tortas from a nearby taqueria. They were joking and chatting about wedding plans—the local Japanese garden seemed perfect—as Rueckert turned their pickup into the parking lot of a strip mall in suburban north Phoenix. A red truck with oversize tires and tinted windows sideswiped theirs, and as they stopped to get out, Rueckert's window exploded. He told Longdon to get down and reached for the handgun he had inside a cooler on the cab floor. As he threw the truck into gear, there were two more shots. His words turned to gibberish and he slumped forward, his foot on the gas. A bullet hit Longdon's back like a bolt of lightning, her whole body a live wire as they accelerated toward the row of palm trees in the concrete divider.
The air bag against her was stifling, the inside of the cab hot. She managed to call 911. "Where are you shot on your body?" the dispatcher asked. "I don't know, I cannot move. I can't breathe anymore. Somebody help me," she pleaded. "I'm dying."
There was a rush of cool air, and a man leaning over her. Then a flood of bright
lights. "Am I being medevacked?" she asked. "Those are news vultures," the EMT told her. He shielded her face with his hand as they rushed the gurney into the ambulance. She couldn't stop thinking of her 12-year-old. "Tell my son I love him," she said.
Half of her ribs were shattered. Her lungs had collapsed and were filling with blood. As the ambulance screamed toward the hospital, Longdon, an avid scuba diver, clawed at the oxygen mask. She kept trying to tell them: "My regulator isn't working. My regulator isn't working." The EMT held her hand as she faded in and out.
She was barely hanging on as the ER doctor prepared to insert a tube through her rib cage. "I'm really fast," he assured her, "and I'm going to do this as quickly as I can." As the nursing staff held her down, Longdon heard a dog wailing in the corner of the room. How could they allow a dog into this sterile place and let it howl like that? "The last thing I remember was realizing that it wasn't a dog," she recalls. "It was me."
A couple of days into what would become her five-month hospital stay, Longdon was lying with her back to the door when a doctor came in. She didn't see his face when he calmly told her the news: She was a T-4 paraplegic, no longer able to move her body from the middle of her chest down. Rueckert had also survived, but a bullet through his brain left him profoundly cognitively impaired and in need of permanent round-the-clock care.