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Women Find Healing In Gun Violence Support Group

When the bullets hit Shenitrea Vaughn's stomach, they burned like hot rocks. The shooter, she suspects, had come to her home for a robbery.

"To be honest, I don't know what was supposed to happen," she said.

The five bullets that tore through her body took the feeling from her legs.

"I never thought I’d be in a wheelchair," she said. "Never thought I’d be shot."

Gun violence is plaguing many cities across the nation this year. In Louisville, statistics show homicides and shootings are on track to reach record highs.

When it comes to addressing the issue, it's often men who are the focus of conversation. And statistics show, at least in Louisville, that men — especially young men — account for the bulk of shooting victims.

Louisville Metro Police Department data show women accounted for about 20 percent of all shooting victims through the end of May. Yet it's women, some say, who bear the biggest burden of spiking gun violence.

Jodi Wojcike is a nurse practitioner at University of Louisville Hospital's trauma center. She said the surge in shootings creates "a different current of energy in the hospital."

"Even though we don't have a lot of women that are shot, we have a lot of women affected by gun violence," she said. "Maybe even more so than men."

Wojcike said mothers, wives and girlfriends are often the first at the side of shooting victims in the hospital. Sometimes, they're the victims.

To help women deal with the effects -- both emotional and physical -- that come with gun violence, Vaughn has formed a women's support group. She's calling it "Bullets Have No Eyes."

The name fits, she said, because no one is immune to being shot.

Sheronda Morris knows that. She was hit by a stray bullet in 2013 while trying to break up a fight. The bullet tore through her hand, shattered her collar bone and struck her spinal cord.

The damage paralyzed her from the neck down.

Morris, 42, said it took months of rehab to regain the ability to walk and eat. Her wounds eventually healed, but the mental and emotional pain remains, she said. For that, she said support is the best medicine.

"Being able to speak your mind, feel free, show your feelings," she said. "That's what it's all about."

That's exactly what Vaughn wants, too. She said she wants the group to grow and be an outlet for anyone struggling with the effects of gun violence -- men and women.

"We're here to listen, we're here to help," she said.

The group is still in its early stages, and there is still room to grow, Vaughn said. But she can already see the impact its having. Her mom can, too. Stacee Spurling said her daughter's work is a point of pride.

"My heart cries with joy," she said.

The shooting turned her family's world upside down, and Spurling still struggles to accept its reality. But it is real. It does hurt. And her daughter has a long road to recovery.

While the doctors said she is paralyzed from the waist down, Vaughn isn't so quick to accept that.

"I'm going to walk again," she said.

And if she ever doubts herself, that's where Morris and the other women in the group come in. That support, she said, will help them heal.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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