Brent Swancer January 19, 2022
In this day and age of increasing gun violence, people in some places have started to become more and more wary of being shot. It seems it could happen anywhere at anytime, and is a legitimate concern, as being shot is a pretty big deal that many don’t recover from. Yet, they say that when it is not your time, it is not your time, and there have been some pretty bewilderingly strange cases of people who have been shot or shot at who have managed to come out of it relatively unscathed despite odds stacked against them. Whether such cases represent some sort of miracles or not it cannot be said, but they are certainly odd to say the least. And so here we will look at a selection of cases of people who were either shot to the point where they really should have died, or escaped being shot altogether through miraculous means.
Some cases of miraculous survival from gun attacks are those that involve people who have taken and extreme amount of gunfire that should have destroyed them, yet have lived to tell the tale, sometimes even with few long term negative effects or permanent injuries. While most people would think that being shot once or twice would be a death sentence, how about a man who was shot 20 times and walked away? In 1995, Kenny Vaughan, of Rougemont, North Carolina, pulled into his driveway one evening after work on what was up until then just a normal, mundane night. When he got out of his car there would have been no reason to suspect that this would be any different from any other evening, but then a van pulled up right behind him and out climbed a man holding a rifle, who Kenny soon realized was a former neighbor of his. Kenny began to speak out to him, and that was when the man raised the rifle and aimed it straight at him. Kenny ran. The first bullet hit him in his leg as he tried to run away around the side of the house. As Kenny crawled along on his side, his attacker emerged from the shadows and began relentlessly shooting him over and over again at a range of around 5 feet. Amazingly, Kenny still kept crawling along, trying to get to his minivan in order to scurry under it for some sort of protection, even as bullet after bullet ripped into him. As he felt each impact, he says “I asked the Lord not to hit me in my heart and head,” and continued crawling along, his assailant following him like a specter and firing again in a barrage of gunfire. The no doubt startled attacker had to stop to reload, during which time Kenny somehow climbed up to his feet and onto the hood of his minivan, and the gunman shot him in the abdomen to send him sprawling, before continuing to light him up with bullets. The shots were from very close range, with nothing to protect him, and Kenny would later claim that during this barrage he had an out of body experience, as if he were watching the scene from 15 feet away.
When the merciless attack stopped, Kenny had been shot 20 times, and the gunman ran off to leave him lying there in a spreading pool of blood. Unbelievably, Kenny did not lose consciousness the entire time, and was lucid enough and able to speak even when paramedics arrived. When doctors examined the very serious damage, they were astonished that he could have possibly lived through that, let alone remain conscious and able to speak. Two doctors who operated on Mr. Vaughan said his survival was unprecedented, noting that every one of the many bullets had managed to just barely miss a vital organ, with two of them missing his heart by mere millimeters. One of the doctors would say, “How you can get that many bullets in the chest, the groin, the abdomen and extremities and not have a lethal injury is pretty remarkable. He was very fortunate.” Vaughn would not only fully recover from his grievous injuries, but suffers no long term physical effects from his harrowing ordeal. How he managed to survive such an attack remains unknown, but he has said of it:
I don’t know if it’s the adrenaline or just the will to live. You want to live more than anything in the world, and you know you have no control. I asked the Lord not to hit me in my heart and head. I wouldn’t close my eyes. I kept telling myself, ‘If you close your eyes, you’ll go into shock, and you’re dead.’ It was a plan that was way bigger than I am. And why He saw fit for me to live and other people not to live, I can’t begin to answer that question.
Being shot 20 times and coming out of it in the end is practically unheard of, truly miraculous, but there have been other remarkable cases like this one as well. In June of 2018, Jamal, a 29-year-old reggae and blues singer, was walking two friends to their car after a party in Toronto, Canada. As they walked across the parking area they were jumped by three assailants, who robbed them and ran off into the night. However, for reasons unknown they came back several minutes later, pistol whipped Jamal, and all three of them began opening fire on him with handguns as his horrified friends looked on. During the assault, Jamal says he seemed to rise from his body to watch from nearby, and he would say of it:
They appeared with their guns. The next thing I knew, one of them struck me in the head with his gun and a shot went off. I was knocked down to the ground. I didn’t feel the bullets at first. I remember the flashes from the guns. It was the weirdest out-of-body experience. It felt like I was above myself looking down at them shooting me.
The trio of thugs shot Jamal dozens of times from nearly point blank range before running off. Amazingly, he did not lose consciousness and was not even taken to the hospital by ambulance, but rather in the car of one of friends he was with, both of whom were oddly not targeted in the vicious attack. When he arrived at the hospital, doctors would find 30 bullet entry and exit wounds, and police would later find 33 shell casings scattered about at the scene, yet Jamal was conscious and aware the whole time. Doctors carried out a series of two 15-hour surgeries to repair the man’s damaged organs and veins while also putting plates in to repair his bones, as well as removing most of the bullets, although some remain. Jamal has said of the ordeal and its significance to him:
I still have some bullets in me. The other day I was scratching my back and I felt something hard and cold come out of from my skin. I knew what it was. I would have a hard time going through a metal detector. Sometimes I feel so alone but then I remember I am lucky. I believe God put me in that position because if it had been one of my friends shot, I would have felt even worse. It was better it was me. I think I was put there to protect my friends. I want to use my second chance to help people. I was blessed. I am not victim. I am a survivor. I survived.
Although Jamal now suffers from PTSD and has only limited use of one of his arms and hands, considering he was shot 30 times at point blank range it is a miracle he is alive at all. These cases are pretty incredible, but perhaps even more so are those cases in which people have managed to recover from being shot in the head, something that seems like it must surely mean death, but apparently not always. Army veteran Sydney Rice was just a 25-year-old college student when her ordeal unfolded. At the time she staying in Huntington, West Virginia at the house of her boyfriend, Aaron Black. On the evening of September 2, 2017, she woke to the sight of her boyfriend’s college buddy, Quenton Sheffield, bursting into the room waving around a gun and shouting. Sheffield then held the gun up and calmly shot her in the head at point blank range. Rice says of what happened next:
He put a gun to my forehead – it all happened so quickly. I said ‘Oh my God no, please don’t! Don’t shoot me!’ He didn’t say a word as he pulled the trigger at arms-length away from my forehead. I felt extreme pain in my right eye and I fell on the bed, my ears ringing so loudly from the gun shot that they screamed. As I didn’t know if Quenton was still there, I pretended to be dead until I was sure he had taken off. As I ran into the kitchen, I saw Aaron sat at the table like he always did, his head and his hands on the table, face turned towards me. His eyes were wide open and he had been shot multiple times. ‘Stay with me Aaron,’ I said. ‘I’ve been hurt too. Please stay with me!’
Even after having been shot in the head, she managed to stay conscious and call emergency services, although her boyfriend would later die from his injuries. Rice would spend 10 days in the hospital and lose an eye, but she made such a solid recovery that she didn’t even need rehabilitation or any special follow-up surgeries. One month later, Sheffield would hand himself into cops and was convicted in 2020 of the first-degree murder of Aaron Black. Trice has gone on to marry security guard Jeffrey Johnson, 24, and the couple have a one-year-old daughter Laya together. As to her own miraculous survival and recovery, Rice has said of her ordeal:
Doctors say it’s a miracle I’m here. After emergency surgery, the doctors had to leave most of the bullet lodged in my head as it’s too risky to take it out. Physically, I had made such a good recovery that I didn’t even need any rehab. My face was a mess, though – it was badly swollen and I had lost my eye, but it was thought better to send me home so that my body could gradually heal itself. Mentally, I was a mess and I was diagnosed with severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I suffered from extreme nightmares and I couldn’t leave the house. I had such a lot of grief and guilt that I survived and Aaron didn’t .I’m just so thankful to be alive and while I will always miss and love Aaron, I have a new life with Jeffrey and Laya to live to the fullest.
Was there some purpose as to why she was spared, or was she just incredibly lucky? Who knows? There have been some other pretty amazing cases of people surviving direct, close range shots to the head. In 1987, 14-year-old Ahad Israfil of Dayton, Ohio, was shot in the head at work when someone dropped a firearm and it accidentally went off. The bullet that hit him destroyed most of one of his cerebral hemispheres and severely damaged half of his skull, his head held together by merely the skin of his scalp. He was rushed to the hospital, where he received surgery, part of which involved filling portions of his ruined skull with silicone. Despite this horrific injury that should have killed him, Ahad regained consciousness and was soon alert and speaking, a feat doctors did not think was possible. He would also go on to make a remarkable recovery, regaining most of his faculties and successfully obtaining a university degree. How could this be? Was this a true miracle?
On Sept. 4, 2005, 3-year-old Stephanie Ayula of Hillside, New Jersey, was in Nigeria to attend her aunt’s wedding. The day after the event, as she was heading to evening church services with her grandmother and grandfather, they were ambushed by gunmen who fired upon them in an apparently random and unprovoked senseless attack. The gunfire would kill Stephanie’s grandfather, critically injure her grandmother, and one of the bullets hit her directly in the head, tearing away her forehead and scalp to leave her brain tissue exposed. It was a sickening, gruesome injury that was immediately deemed to be fatal, but somehow this little girl was breathing and lucid even with her head destroyed and her brain hanging out and hemorrhaging badly. She was taken to a hospital in Nigeria, after which she was airlifted to Newark Airport and then taken to Hackensack University Medical Center to undergo advanced neurosurgery to remove bullet and skull fragments and remove sections of the skull to allow the brain to swell without creating too much pressure on the brain.
At the time it was unknown if she would survive the surgery, and even if she did it was thought that she would most certainly suffer debilitating handicaps and loss of cognitive function. What no one at all expected was that she would be back to her usual self shortly after the surgery, and although she wears an eye patch and has undergone many more reconstructive procedures, she has suffered no noticeable cognitive damage or defects, and in fact is completely normal neurologically. Indeed, she has gone on to live a relatively normal life, leading her to be widely known among her doctors and friends as the “Miracle Girl.”
In yet another case, Andrea Michalkova Scott was a research chemist in the Interdisciplinary Center for Nanotoxicity at Jackson State University in Mississippi, and on February 1, 2010, she was leaving the university to head home. As she walked across the parking lot to her car, she was confronted by a mugger who robbed her and shot her execution-style in the head before running off to leave her for dead. As she was sprawled out in a puddle of blood, a passing man came over to help her and found her incredibly still conscious. She told the good Samaritan to call her husband, after which she was taken to a nearby hospital. There they worked to remove bone and bullet fragments and stop the bleeding, and CT scans showed that the bullet had left a trail of fragments behind, but amazingly the bullet and its fragments had all just managed to bypass critical structures of the brain and the spinal cord. They had just barely missed four major blood vessels supplying the brain, including the carotid arteries that feed the hemispheres, and the vertebral arteries that supply blood to the brain stem and cerebellum by millimeters, and the bullet had passed just a quarter inch from her spine, so it was seen as a miracle that she was still alive. Today, Andrea has made a full recovery, with no lasting damage other than a patch of numbness above her ear, and she calls it “a miracle that I can walk, that I can talk, that I can even smile.”
Just as fantastic and bizarre as these survival stories are cases in which a person was shot at and should have been hit and probably killed, but due to freak circumstances they weren’t. One night in November 1976, Police Officer and Vietnam veteran J.R. Rouse was out on patrol with his partner in Augusta, Georgia. When they came across a very drunk man stumbling out of a bar, after which he fell to the sidewalk. Rouse and his partner went to help the man, but when they arrived he pulled out a gun and grumbled “I am going to kill you,” before firing the gun at Rouse from less than two feet away. The gun let out a bang and the muzzle flashed, and although Rouse winced in anticipation of the bullet hitting him in the chest or abdomen, it never came. For some reason, the gun had fired but had not shot him. Rouse would recall of the incident:
I heard the gun go “pop,” but it didn’t sound like a regular gun, but I could feel the fire from the barrel. I thought he had a play gun. I thought it was a cap gun when it first went off, but you think one thing and do another – you still have to react to the incident.
Rouse grabbed the gun away from the man and arrested him, and was shocked when it was later revealed that the revolver that had been fired at him was very real. Not only was it real, but there appeared to be nothing wrong with it. For reasons we may never understand, it had fired but the bullet had remained in the barrel, a truly freak occurrence that saved Rouse’s life. He would say of it, “I guess it just wasn’t my time.” He would eventually leave the police department and go on to live a full, happy life with the second chance given to him, eventually dying in 2005, 30 years after a gun fired at him at point blank range by a vagrant should have killed him.
Finally, we have the strange story of Maria Hernandez. During the mid-1980s, serial killer Richard Ramirez, also called the Walk-in Killer and the Night Stalker, terrorized the residents of the Greater Los Angeles area and later the residents of the San Francisco Bay Area with a home invasion and murder crime spree that lasted from June 1984 until August 1985, and would end with 13 murders, five attempted murders, eleven sexual assaults, and fourteen burglaries. One of Ramirez’s intended victims was Maria Hernandez, who Ramirez had seen by pure chance and decided to follow from her car to her apartment. As he was trying to sneak up behind her, she was alerted to his presence and spun around to face him, prompting him to raise his gun and fire at her. By some complete stroke of luck, the bullet was somehow deflected by the car keys that Hernandez was holding, breaking her finger but leaving her otherwise unharmed. Nevertheless, she fell to the ground to play dead. Ramirez would kick her a few times to make sure she was dead, then enter the apartment and kill Hernandez’s roommate in cold blood. Making the story even weirder still was that on his way out, Ramirez saw Hernandez getting up, but for some reason he did not shoot her again when she begged for her life. Ultimately, Hernandez’s testimony would be used against him when he was eventually caught and put on trial. All because of some keys and a whole lot of luck.
These are cases that certainly defy the norm and all reason and common sense. Getting shot can be serious business, and that is now more apparent than ever before with all of the gun violence out there running rampant. Yet, sometimes there are these extraordinary cases of people who just seem to be, in a sense, bulletproof, defying the odds and lifting a middle finger to death. So how did these people survive? Why is it that some people get shot once and die, whereas others can be lit up in a hail of gunfire and come out relatively unscathed, or more amazingly yet, somehow avoid being hit altogether? Is this all just blind luck or is there a method to the madness, some meaning and force we cannot fathom operating in the background, somehow protecting those whose times have not yet come? There is no way to really know, but it goes to show that miracles seem to happen, whether we understand why that is or not.