Shannon Gaskins tried to scream, but nothing came out.
The smell of gunpowder and burnt flesh permeated throughout the apartment, and searing pain set in. Gaskins reached for her lower back and found blood and a bullet. Panicked, she stuck the bullet back into the wound.
Gaskins tried to stay calm as she called 911. She told a dispatcher she had been shot and gave an address as she struggled to breathe. She wondered why her legs wouldn’t work.
“They were glad I called when I did, because if I had waited five minutes, I would have just bled out,” Gaskins said.
The horrific incident left Gaskins, 22, paralyzed from the waist down. Doctors have told her they have never seen someone with her injuries walk again.
Gun violence soared in Cedar Rapids last year, up 43 percent in just one year. Twenty-two people were shot, and two of them died from their injuries. Others, like Gaskins, have had their lives forever changed. Most of the cases have not been solved.
“It was an unforgiving year,” police Sgt. Cristy Hamblin said.
After 63 confirmed reports of gunshots in 2012 – believed to be an all-time-high – police responded to three shootings in the first seven days of the New Year, including one that left a man wounded.
Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman, who has been on the job for 11 weeks, called the trend “very alarming” and has promised a “multi-directional” response.
Police are not sure why the number of shootings has risen so dramatically, but Jerman said it’s clear guns are in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. He said one of his priorities going forward will be to get more guns off the streets.
“We do have an issue, we do have a problem,” Jerman said. “Our methods and strategies we’re going to employ to solve it, there are many, but I don’t wish to show our hand, so to speak.”
Jerman said he and other top officials at the police department and in other police departments have talked about ways to reduce the number of shootings, but said specific strategies have not been finalized. He said he intends to increase patrols in certain areas of the city, and reiterated a plea he made in November for more community assistance in solving the cases.
“The overwhelming majority of Cedar Rapids does not want to tolerate this violence,” Jerman said. “I want people who have information and who know of the persons responsible for these shootings to come forward.”
The bloodiest stretch of shootings happened in mid-April, when five people were shot in four days. One of them, 22-year-old Raphael Blackwell, died. Nine days after Blackwell’s death, bullets struck multiple houses on Fourth Avenue SE.
“When I’m out here, sitting on the porch for an hour, you’ll see a person walking by with a gun,” resident Tracey Doolin told a reporter that afternoon. “It never fails.”
Police have made arrests in seven of the shooting cases, including the Blackwell homicide and the shooting that injured Gaskins. But so far, no arrests have been made in connection with the shooting death of 19-year-old Latasha Roundtree, who was shot Sept. 22.
Not every shooting victim has been cooperative with police. Investigators said two men who were shot in the middle of a street in March would not help them build the case. Similar difficulties were cited after a drive-by shooting on a sunny morning in July that left a car riddled with more than a dozen bullet holes.
Police have said very few of the shootings were random, and Gaskins admits she knew the people involved in her case. Reports of other types of violent crimes in Cedar Rapids decreased in 2012.
“I consider Cedar Rapids safe, absolutely,” Jerman said. “I want to keep it safe and make it safer.”
The bullet that struck Gaskins on April 20 severed her spinal cord, shattered a vertebra and tore open her spleen. She spent eight weeks in the hospital, and now has to use a wheelchair.
Each day, Gaskins takes more than two dozen pills for pain. The most simple of tasks, like getting dressed, are now time-consuming. The emotional impacts have been noticeable.
“I cry a lot more,” Gaskins said. “I’m a lot more paranoid.”
Gaskins’ mother sees the effects of a violent year in her daughter each day. She said Shannon understands it is a “gift” for her to still be alive.
“There’s a lot that still hurts,” Carrie Gaskins said. “But we’re working through it, one day at a time.”
SHOOTINGS IN CEDAR RAPIDS IN 2012
Crime Reports in Cedar Rapids 2011-2012 by GazetteOnline