Denisha Davis is broken, but not defeated.
Paralyzed from the knees down by a bullet fired into a party at an Iowa City apartment complex on March 7, Davis, 18, is not letting her injury keep her down. Instead, Davis - a 2013 Cedar Rapids Washington High School graduate - is using her hospital bed as a pulpit to deliver a message.
"Violence is not the answer," Davis said Saturday from her hospital room at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. "Guns are definitely not the answer to anything."
Davis was at a friend's birthday party at the Pheasant Ridge Apartment complex in the 2600 block of Bartelt Road on the west side of Iowa City when more than a dozen shots rang out shortly before midnight. Davis said panic ensued and people began to take cover. As she tried to take refuge in a bathroom, a bullet pierced her side, destroying her gall bladder, lacerating her liver and kidney and breaking two ribs before it hit her between the T12 and L1 vertebra. The hot bullet stopped and cauterized her nerves.
"I knew instantly I was paralyzed because I couldn't feel my feet any more," she said.
Iowa City police responded to the shooting, but by then, the suspects had fled. On Friday, police announced they had arrested 20-year-old Cedar Rapids man Devasier Jontees Cungtion. Davis' mother, Denia Davis, said her daughter knows Cungtion from school, as well as two other men from Cedar Rapids wanted in connection with the shooting, 19-year-old Gage M. Rupp and 19-year-old Travonte D. Hughes. Denia Davis said her daughter doesn't a fourth suspect, 20-year-old Dimione J. Walker, of Iowa City.
Police have not said what the motivation was behind the shooting. Denia Davis, who has operated an in-home daycare in Cedar Rapids for 16 years, said her daughter was not deliberately hurt by the four men.
"We are not mad at either party," she said.
Now, the mother and daughter want to make sure the violence doesn't continue and escalate. They aren't interested in revenge.
"Lay down the guns," Denia Davis said. "You guys shouldn't have had them in the first place. I don't want this person going to get this person. You guys hit an innocent person; now stop. That's what we're trying to get across."
Denia Davis said her daughter is doing her best to remain upbeat. Denisha's classmates, friends and family have come to visit her. She jokes with her nurses and has discussed plans for her upcoming birthday in May with her mother.
"We're keeping it positive," Denia Davis said.
Still, it's been hard. Denia Davis said her daughter "keeps getting shot" in her mind, reliving the events of the night over and over. Denisha who slept through most of the two days following the shooting and only learned the extent of her injuries on the following Monday, said the news has been difficult to take at times. Her mother said she planned to enlist in the Army at the end of the summer and make a new life for herself outside of Cedar Rapids.
"It was pretty heartbreaking," Denisha said, her voice cracking. "My legs, they're like a bunch of dead weight. I can't do anything."
Denisha's unshakable will has been an inspiration to others, including her godmother, Katie Leonard of Cedar Rapids.
"She's absolutely, 100 percent positive," Leonard said. "The tears that have come are tears of her saying 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry I ruined the party.'"
Added Leonard, "It's not, 'I feel sorry for myself.'"
To help the family in their time of need, Leonard started a gofundme page for Denisha (http://www.gofundme.com/7g9r3g). As of Saturday afternoon, the page had raised $900.
Leonard said she hopes those responsible for the shooting and those considering retaliation will hear Denisha's message.
"They've got to put the guns away," she said. "It's not the answer. What if it was there sister? What if it was their child? And what if it was their mother...How would they feel? Maybe that would stop some of this."
Denisha will get moved to Saint Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids next week to begin spinal therapy. That part of her recovery alone could take two months. Her mother said Denisha has "a long road to recovery." Despite the obstacles in front of her, Denia Davis said her daughter remains confident and headstrong."She knows she's paralyzed from the knees down," she said. "She also knows she has work to do. We're going to walk out of here."