In the Blink of an Eye

An unflinching look at the sudden impact of a shooting on your street, and in your family.  

There are no names in this story, but it’s all true and google-able. If fact, at the end there’s a link where you can find the narrator – but for now, she could be any one of us. We’re all closer than we like to think to random acts of calamity that could upend our lives in ways we never saw coming.

Warning: this first-person account describes violent events that could be disturbing for some individuals. But it’s also a mother’s fearless effort to heal her family, and advocate for accountability and mental health support. She lays it all out here to motivate others to seek the necessary mental and emotional health services for themselves and their loved ones, before things get out of hand.

As told by “P” 🗣️

First off to give you a picture, I was born here, and raised in a military family so I’ve lived all over. I have seven children, and when they started getting older I very intentionally moved away from all the violence in the city, out to East Lansdowne, where I bought a nice house on a quiet street with good neighbors. Well.

You may have heard about a mass murder this past February where a troubled man took out his brother’s whole family and then burned the entire house down with him in it? Before he killed himself, he injured several cops in a shootout. It was all over the news: CNN, People, all the networks.

Those were my nextdoor neighbors!

The uncle didn’t live there, but it was the parents’ house – they were Vietnamese immigrants, and this was the house where he and his brother grew up. Then the brother married a Black woman and they moved in with the parents, started a family. They had three beautiful kids, just the stereotypical beautiful blended family. Lovely people. Three generations under one roof. The grandparents were the only ones to make it out alive.

No one saw it coming, he just went haywire. A stupid argument with his 14 year old niece set him off. He went and got his gun, came back and started shooting everybody. Apparently he had recently lost his job, and gone through a divorce. But he didn’t have any criminal or mental illness history or anything. Like I said, this was a quiet neighborhood, this family fit right in. We’re all so shocked and honestly freaked out over this.

This happened in the middle of the day, around 4pm and thank goodness none of us were home at the time. However, my house was basically a part of the crime scene. The police kicked in my front door and ran through my house, guns out, then they kicked down my fence and rushed my neighbor’s house. There was shooting all around.

They cordoned off my house, and we were homeless that month as investigators went in and out. Finally in early March we were let back in. Oh. My. God. Nothing prepares you for that. There’s water damage, the floors are all messed up, the weirdest things are broken. I know there was no fire here but the smell of smoke is so heavy, and it’s everywhere.

Of course I have insurance but somehow my agent thought he was doing me a favor, saving me $150 by taking out the “D Clause” which is not mandatory but it should be. The D clause pays for expenses when you’re ousted from your home after, say, a flood or a mass shooting next door. So this was how I learned I would have to pay out of pocket for the month we lived in a hotel, and likewise when we move out when the repairs start. Can you believe it? Let me be a cautionary tale: check your insurance policies, make sure you have the D clause!

Anyway, that was February. In March my 17 year old son was shot five times in the back on the streets of West Philly.

But we’re in East Lansdowne. And he attends virtual school. He has friends in the area, and he’ll hang out with them after school sometimes but he minds his curfew. So I wasn’t worried when I got home from work and he wasn’t around. By 6:30, I was worried and at 7:15, the phone rang. It was the surgical team from Penn Presbyterian, letting me know they had my son. And there’d been a shooting. And he was in critical condition.

My boy was so shot up, the doctors could not believe he survived. He was hit in the liver, the kidney, the spleen, the pancreas. A bullet ripped through his diaphragm and went through the right lung. Another one bounced off his rib cage and lodged in his arm. But no major arteries, no intestinal damage. It was rough though, he was in the hospital for a month, he had three bleeds, and a collapsed lung. He still has some muscle weakness and numbness, but he’s home.

And for our family, and for my personally – that nightmare has kept on giving. No one can tell me what happened, I’ve got five different versions of the same story. Ring camera footage from the PPD has cleared up a lot.

Let me be clear — I didn’t even know my son was dating this girl. I’d heard her name but my son has a bunch of male and female friends, he’s a good kid, I trust him. And in this incident, he was trying to do the right thing. He had no idea he was walking into a toxic neighbor situation.

So that day, my son’s girlfriend called him from the Fashion District, saying someone had tried to jump her and her sister, and she was scared and needed an escort home. He did not know however that the attackers lived on the same street, and the fighting continued there.

Eventually, someone he’d never seen before walked up to my son, showed him the gun in his waistband, and said You have five seconds. My son grabbed his girlfriend and her sister by the hand and they took off down the street as the guy counted.

Shots rang out on the count of 3, and immediately my son knew he’d been hit because his arm locked straight out in front of him. The shooters gave chase, and his girlfriend’s sister was shot twice in her leg while my son took four more bullets to his back. A neighbor heard the gunfire and when she saw the kids running she opened her door, screamed at them to get inside.

She slammed the door and locked it behind them, and this is when my son realized how badly hurt he was. He felt very weak, very dizzy like he was going to pass out. And the last thing he remembered was leaning against the woman’s wall, looking up at her as he slid down. That lady’s whole wall was streaked red with his blood.

Come to find out these girls have been fighting for at least three years — lots of people tell me their beef goes back all the way to the fourth grade. Either way, it’s too long. Where are the parents? The block captains? These are rowhomes, people need to get along.

I said to the girlfriend’s mother, Please don’t feel attacked. But as a mom — and I have seven kids — I do not understand how you allow something like this to continue. To just let things escalate these last three years, to the point where these kids can’t walk down their own street or sit in front of their own house. I asked her, Are you OK with it? And it was like she couldn’t be bothered.

She told me she lives a “quiet existence” and didn’t want to get involved in “kid stuff.” That was all I needed to hear. My number one job as a mom is to protect what I brought in this world, so I was prepared to put my foot down on this relationship. I didn’t need to, though, my son ended it on his own. He’s working with IDAAY’s community crisis intervention program, which offers support, mediation, and conflict resolution to all parties involved in youth shootings.

We’re all hoping the girl and her family will participate, too. IDAAY’s counselors can hopefully help piece together the whole story, and help my son understand why he was shot. I want to encourage him to ask that question and face the answers. And hopefully do the work to learn from this experience, and find a way to make sense of it.

I think that normalizing mental health care for men as a whole should be a goal, because boys are raised to suck it up, walk it off, let it go. And when they try to talk about their feelings, they’re often ostracized and even shamed. And so they grow up holding everything in. By adulthood, many men have no one to talk to. We need to change this. Girls too. Someone should’ve taught these girls how to say, Hey you hurt my feelings, we need to talk. We can’t be so afraid to open up.

It’s not an exaggeration: when people explode, they make horrific choices. In East Lansdown, in West Philly. Sadly, it’s too late for my nextdoor neighbors. So far the girlfriend and her mother have not been responsive to mediation efforts, but I’ll hold out hope.

Meanwhile, I told my son that one thing I learned from my dad who had PTSD (like my grandpa and a couple of my cousins), was that talking about your trauma actually makes it easier to live with. It won’t make it go away. But talking does allow you an opportunity to ease the pain, it helps you process it. And he got that. So he’s signed up for all the programs, panels, events, and all kinds of things in Penn Trauma Violence Recovery program. And I’m proud of how hard he’s working to find a positive path forward.

This summer the family is settling into a new space in Allegheny West so our house repairs can begin. Our landlord is very understanding, but we’re not getting anything for free. It’ll be a big challenge to cover mortgage and utilities for our home while renting this place, and covering those utilities, too.

One good thing, I’m working with Sheena through IDAAY, and she’s hooking me up with all the different assistance programs that are available. We’re waiting to hear back on some of those, and others are still in the works. It’s a process! I’m not used to feeling so unsure about how we’re going to stay afloat these next six months, but I know we’ll get through.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A family friend’s GoFundMe has raised $3k so far towards supporting them in this time of strain and uncertainty. Please consider making a donation, no amount too small. For in-kind donations or to connect with the family directly, please email editor@nwlocalpaper.com

Zion (r) and his siblings (2023)

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