'I can't believe it. They shot me'

With gunfire erupting across the city this week, the survivor of another horrific shooting tells his own story of urban violence

July 30, 2005
Globe and Mail
As told to David Silverberg

Michael, 25, who doesn't want to reveal his last name because the suspects are still at large, was shot on the 35C Jane Street bus in November.

Getting shot wasn't like a shooting in movies. I was in shock, and I told myself to relax. In my head, I was thinking, I can't believe it. They shot me. They shot me? I knew that if I became stressed out and paranoid, blood would spurt out, so I had to think fast. I didn't get scared or do anything irrational. I held on to the pole near the bus driver and told him, "I've been shot, call the ambulance." I touched my head, saw the blood, looked at the little girl across from me with blood running down her face and passed out.

Only a few minutes before that, I was a regular guy on my way to work at a warehouse in North York. The bus was packed, but around Wilson, I found a seat in the back near three kids who were bragging loudly. One seemed about 16, the other two looked to be in their early 20s.

They were talking about killing people who they were upset with, saying garbage like, "I'm gonna kill that bitch!" They were trying to intimidate passengers and it was working: The front half of the bus was full because other passengers didn't want to hear them, so they had moved. I could've done what the others did but I'd had enough of their talking so I said with the utmost respect, "People on this bus don't appreciate or care about what you're talking about."

Then one of the loudmouths said, "We gangsta niggas."

I gave him a look that said "C'mon," and then the younger kid said to me, "What, you think we're bitches?" I said nothing, but then he approached me and started punching me. Then the other two joined in, kicking and punching, and fear told me to run. I ran to the front, and then heard three quick gunshots, one every second. Three bullets hit me, one in the right hip that lodged in my groin, the second splitting my knee bone and another grazing my forehead. One bullet also struck an 11-year-old girl named Tamara [Carter]. I felt more numbness than pain, as if I was really drunk and bogged down and dehydrated. I couldn't move.

When I was in the ambulance, I heard one paramedic say, "He's gonna flatline." I thought: "That means die, the heart stops. No, I'm not letting that happen. I'm going to do my best to survive. I'm not going to die because of these little chumps." My mind was racing but it was still focused. I visualized survival, like basketball players picturing a basket or a win.

At Sunnybrook Hospital, in the critical care unit, I learned I'd lost three litres of blood. I had so little energy I couldn't even raise my arm. With the bullets still in me, I began to think: "Are they going to slice me open? Will my lungs collapse?"

Then came the embarrassment of being reduced to having IV tubes hooked up all over me, people bathing my back. I took baby steps in the three weeks I was hospitalized. I couldn't walk at first, using a chair as a walker to help me use the washroom. My left leg turned into a toothpick from lack of movement, and my right leg, where I got shot, puffed out to the size of an elephant's trunk because of a blood clot. My body felt sore, especially after the surgery that cut me open from ribcage to pelvis. They cut a lot of muscle so I had to develop strength and learn the basics again, such as how to cough -- I had to relearn how to do it by getting my abdominals back into shape.

When I was in the hospital, I didn't think about revenge or the shooters. I worried about me, how I was doing. I thought a lot about my life -- my future and my past.

Returning home on crutches, I remember being scared for a little bit. I would look out the window and think that someone might get hurt on that bus, you never know. But as the months went on, I started to have less fear and began to think: "I have to live. I can't let these people ruin my life." It didn't happen in one day, but I started to think positively. I went back out into the work force recently after six months of not working, getting a better-paying job. I slowly reacclimatized myself to everyday life.

Deep down, though, I have some vengeance inside me. They tried to kill me, so there's always a little bit of me saying to them, "You tried to kill me, and I've got every right to try to kill you." But I release that energy through exercise and writing hip-hop rhymes with positive messages. I want to write lyrics that are socially critical and spiritually conscious, reflecting the way I'm feeling these days. I need to find ways other than violence to get rid of my aggravation.

So I look forward to talking to youth about violent crime when I visit schools and community centres in the fall via the Toronto Police's outreach program. I plan on telling them how they should be critical about the music they listen to and the movies they watch. I won't lecture them, but speak at their level -- since I write hip-hop rhymes, I can give them a message in a language they'll understand. I also want to tell these youths that despite all the shootings and the violence, we are not scared. Society continues as always, and the shooters won't win.

Why did those kids shoot me? Or even carry a gun? On a certain level, these guys are doing it to be heard. They want to gain manhood and respect, but their behaviour displays pure cowardice. It doesn't take a strong man to shoot a gun. Taking someone else's life does not make you courageous. But they think they're "gangsta," especially when they tried to boast about how many people they plan on killing. Kids are so influenced by pop culture, and I want to tell them that violence is out there to get a rise out of you, but it's only that. If 50 Cent really cared about you, he'd do speeches about getting shot -- but he's simply focused on making a lot of money, and violence sells.

What bothers me most about the shooting is the lack of witnesses stepping forward. I don't expect the witnesses to care about me beyond a "Thank God I'm alive" feeling, but the fact they didn't say anything means they don't care about themselves. Making a choice to not come forward is taking the armour off and ignorantly thinking, "They're not gonna shoot me." But look what happens with stray bullets.

When I see the news about shootings in Toronto, I have the deepest sympathy for the victims of violence and their families. I think about those stories a lot -- I believe there's a kinship between me and these people, because I know what they've been through.

If the suspects who shot me were caught, it would give me peace in a justice sort of way. It would be nice to show Tamara -- and everyone else -- that bad guys go to jail for doing something wrong. That's what's supposed to happen. It pisses me off to think these kids are bragging about shooting people or are planning to shoot someone else.

Sometimes, I think about that bullet travelling fast enough to go through my head and how it came so close to going right through my body. It just missed me, gave me six stitches in my forehead. I think how close I was to death, but that there's a reason behind it all: Was I nicked to teach me a lesson?

It's like the old cliché: You face death and realize what life is worth.

The most frequent question I get is, "Are you scared of taking the bus again?" They don't understand what they're asking. They should really say, "Are you scared your life will end for absolutely no reason?" I can't live like that. I have to do what I have to do. I need to take the bus to get around, so nothing will change. I hope to live life the same as before, if not better.