Jackquilyne Morris of Munhall, a survivor of the LA Fitness rampage in 2009.
Jackquilyne Morris displays the scar from her primary wound in the LA Fitness shooting. The bullet emerged from her back in late March, more than two years after the shooting.
By Mark Roth Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Even though she grew up in a safe neighborhood in Munhall, Jackquilyne Morris often had nightmares about being shot.
So somehow it seemed weirdly inevitable that she would be exercising at LA Fitness in 2009 when George Sodini walked in, pulled two 9 mm pistols out of a satchel, and began firing.
Those old memories were so much on her mind that after she was loaded in an ambulance that night, with bullet wounds to the shoulder, back and side, she told the paramedics, "I know this sounds weird, but I knew this was going to happen someday."
LA Fitness shooting victim recalls event that changed her life
Jackquilyne Morris was among those who endured the horror of the LA Fitness Club shootings. She survived her wounds, but the events of that night still resonate. (Video by Andrew Rush; 7/23/2012)
In another way, though, her shooting made no sense at all.
She didn't know Sodini, and as far as she knew, she had never seen him before, even though he was a club member.
Obsessed with his rejection by women, Sodini walked into the large aerobics classroom that Jackey and several other women were in, turned off the lights and fired 48 rounds from two pistols, before picking up a .45 caliber pistol and shooting himself to death. His rampage at the Collier fitness club killed three women and injured nine.
A few seconds before, Jackey, 28, of North Strabane, remembers turning in a circle to a rollicking salsa beat. When she was facing the front of the room again, everything went dark, and "it looked like fire -- like flashes. I had no idea -- I've never seen a gun before. And there were these loud pops. I still think it's fake sometimes."
Going on instinct, she ran toward the front of the room and dropped onto her stomach. "I lay on my stomach because I thought your back is stronger, and then I put my hands over my head, but really, I thought, 'This is it.' "
One bullet grazed her torso, probably when she was running. A second one grazed her right shoulder. And the third one entered her right lower back, shattered the rim of her pelvis and lodged near her tailbone.
Jackey's case teaches two lessons about gunshot wounds.
One is how random good and bad fortune can be.
If the bullet that entered her back had bounced forward off her pelvis instead of backward, it could have created real havoc, said one of her trauma surgeons, Alain Corcos of UPMC Mercy.
"That's where the rectum and distal end of colon and small bowel are, plus the reproductive organs, bladder, and major blood vessels that split from the aorta," he said.
The second lesson is how often doctors leave bullets inside patients.
In Jackey's case, the 3/4-inch slug ended up in the tissues above her tailbone, and didn't work itself out of her body until March -- 21/2 years later.
"We always have to explain to patients that going in after the bullets is not always best," Dr. Corcos said. "People have this image from the movies that after you yank the bullet out and drop it in a metallic pan everything's OK, but the truth is, it's the trajectory of the bullet and the damage it does to the tissues that is the real problem, and where the bullet comes to rest is secondary."
If a bullet ends up deep in the body, the tissues often form a capsule around the bullet so it won't move. If the bullet is outside the fascia -- the tough fibrous layer above muscles and organs -- it will often work its way back through the skin, as Jackey's did.
Most bullets emerge in one to four weeks, Dr. Corcos said, but Jackey's took more than 900 days.
On March 28, she said, a pea-sized hole opened right above her buttocks. She went into UPMC Mercy,
"When I got there, they said, 'People come in all the time and say, "My bullet is sticking out," and they never are.' But then they rolled me over and said 'Oh, it is peeking out.' So they just numbed it with novocaine and took it out right on the table."
Right after she was shot, Jackey couldn't move. But then a friend who had been shot in the shoulder came over and urged her to get up.
"The firing had stopped. I kind of figured it was over, and my friend kept saying, 'He's done -- let's go.' "
They ran out of the back of the building, and soon, a man with a cell phone arrived and called for help.
The man contacted Matt Morris, then Jackey's fiance, and now her husband. At first, Matt only knew that she had been shot -- not that there had been a mass shooting. He raced toward the shopping center, and that's when he realized it was surrounded by police cars and ambulances.
In the meantime, Jamey Gallagher, Jackey's mom, was working at a call center in Upper St. Clair. She knew about the shootings from news reports, and knew Jackey had been shot because Matt called her.
But she didn't know how bad the injuries were, or whether her daughter was alive. "I went over to my boss and I was just in hysterics. They took me into a room, and I was lying on the floor because I thought I was going to puke."
By that time, Matt had made it to the police mobile command center outside LA Fitness. Most of the officers he encountered wouldn't tell him anything and ordered him to leave, but one state trooper approached him and told him to stay right where he was, and then offered to drive him to UPMC Mercy once they had determined that was where Jackey had been taken.
Ms. Gallagher, her husband and another son and daughter drove to the hospital in their car. When Ms. Gallagher got there, Matt could only tell her that they had taken Jackey in for tests.
"I thought, 'I'm her mother -- they'd better tell me something,' and I went in and said, 'I need to know what's going on.' The nurse looked down at the floor and said, 'I need you to come in the back room with me,' and I thought, 'Oh my God, she's dead.' So they took us back there, and here she was lying on her stomach, and she said, 'Oh, hi, mummy,' and I think about that time that all the adrenaline just came out of me and I went over and just slid down the side of the wall."
"Jackey said, 'Mummy, don't you cry on me,' and I just wanted to bawl, I was so happy, but I couldn't. I was so thankful she was alive, and then I felt so guilty because other people had died."
Jackey remembers the staff cutting off her clothes, giving her a CAT scan, cleaning out her wound and giving her a tetanus shot, and "we were in my room for the 11 o'clock news."
The only other complication Jackey suffered was an infection that hit her about a week after the shooting.
She had become nauseated and feverish, but just thought she was taking longer to heal than some of the other women. When her family doctor told her to report back to UPMC Mercy, they scheduled her for emergency surgery, cleaning out the wound and several bone and bullet fragments, and enlarging her scar in the process.
For the next several weeks, in-home nurses visited her each day to change the packing in her back wound. By October, she was back to her job as a bank accountant, and by November, she was done with physical therapy, even though she could never sit comfortably until the slug came out this year.
Jackey isn't afraid to show a visitor her scar.
She's also not afraid to talk about the hidden scars that may last just as long.
Even today, when she goes into a public place, she checks to see where the exits are, her husband says. In the months after the shooting, her mother added, "anywhere we went she had to have her back to the wall and be looking at the front exit."
If a man comes near her carrying any kind of gym bag or satchel, "I think I have a right to inspect that bag," she said, and sometimes when she is riding on the T, "if somebody gets on and looks at me the wrong way, I have to get out -- I can't take it."
Still, most of the time she remains her bubbly, upbeat self.
When she thinks about Sodini, "I guess I know why he did it; but then, I don't really know why he did it. In the end, though, I don't think I have any feelings toward him."
"Mainly, I feel I'm really lucky, and blessed, because it could have really gone the other way. The bullet was so close to the spine. I don't know, someone was watching me that day."
And there is one final thing. Jackey has returned to the same LA Fitness to take yoga classes.
"I was totally in hysterics about that," her mother said, "but Jackey said, 'Oh yeah, I have to.' And then, the more she went, the better I became."