Left For Dead

Tracey Deel was shot a dozen times by two teens who wanted her car. She dragged herself the length of three football fields determined not to be just another homocide statistic.

"Do you realize that Foltz was executing the search warrant while they were interviewing you?" Wisner asked.

The jury sentenced Kevin to life in prison.

"Maybe we can sleep tonight," Tracey's mother said. Kevin's mother sat in the hallway, curled in a fetal position. She cried and stared out the window as her husband and friends raged that the white media had already executed Kevin. Antonio Rivas, Kevin's father, was wearing jeans and an untucked Polo with holes underneath the arms. He said Kevin was treated the same as Gary Graham. He thought Kevin was targeted because he is poor and Hispanic and can't defend himself. "This isn't justice," he said.

As a former paramedic, Rick Deel knew what a gunshot victim's chances were.
Deron Neblett
As a former paramedic, Rick Deel knew what a gunshot victim's chances were.

Tracey has six guitars she can't play because bullets shattered two knuckles on her left hand. She needs three separate surgeries on that hand alone, new teeth and a prosthetic eye (she wants a blue one). She still has a bullet in her chest, one in her left breast and one lodged between her sinus and her brain; she has fragments in her collarbone, stomach lining and the back of her head. Ben Taub considers it "invasive surgery" to remove bullets that aren't affecting major organs, so the surgeons left the lead where it landed. The bullets roll beneath Tracey's skin. "They burn me," she says.

Tracey worked at River Oaks Imaging for ten years. In the pain management section she laughed and joked with patients, putting them at ease before their treatments. "She's an excellent tech," Timm says. Tracey always connected with the patients. The office is saving her job, but Tracey has no idea when she'll be able to return. She needs both her hands to work the X-ray machines, and she doesn't know how long the surgeries and healing process will take. Plus, right now she isn't relaxed enough to make anyone else feel calm.

Tracey spends her days watching movies and reading books about people given a second chance to reach heaven. She can't ever get lost in a story line and forget about that November night. She wishes she had gone straight inside; she wishes she had stayed home or crashed at Cora's. Her head is full of regrets and questions and if-onlys. Tracey can't figure out why they shot her. She'd like to ask the boys, and she'd like an honest answer, but she doesn't think that will ever happen.

When her father is stressed, he sleeps; when her stepmother is stressed, she cooks. Linda has been chopping meat, fish and vegetables, delving into new cookbooks and banging pots and pans to get out her anger. Tracey's Chihuahua now weighs 15 pounds; Timone "Fat Puffins" Deel sits on Tracey's lap, kissing Tracey and snuggling in her arms. "Our relationship has changed," Tracey says, looking down at her dog. "He knows I'm different. I'm not as lovey or loving as I used to be. With him, or with anyone."

When she looks in the mirror, she sees a different person staring back. "I liked my green eyes. I liked my smile. I liked the way I used to look," she says. Despite the scar above her lip and the bullets burning in her chest, Tracey doesn't feel like it really happened. She knows she was shot, but she keeps thinking that it's a dream she's going to wake up from. She has bad weeks where everything hurts and she doesn't feel like she'll ever get better. She has weeks where she wishes the boys had just finished the job. Tracey never used to cry; now there are days when she can't stop.

When the pain was at its peak, Tracey stopped talking to most of her friends. Nothing was new in her life; all she had to talk about was being shot, and she didn't want to relive it 50 times a day. When her friends chatted about their lives and their problems Tracey listened, but it was hard to hear them lament little things. "They've got a hangnail and it legitimately hurts them, and I understand that," she says. "But it could be worse." That, too, was hard for some people to hear. Tracey's best friend, Veronica, calls every day; they talk about music.

Tracey started e-mailing Dani in February. Dani had a new job and was too busy to date anyone, and Tracey didn't like leaving the house. Tracey needed to talk to someone who wanted to listen. Dani sees Tracey as a soft, honest, straightforward person who appreciates the meaning of words. Dani does aromatherapy and energy healing with Tracey. The two of them giggle a lot.

Still, Tracey doesn't think anyone can understand her. Most people who get shot as many times as she did die. She might be able to find a support group, but she's never been the type to talk about her problems and complain. Anytime she hurts herself Tracey gets angry; if she stubs her toe she loses her temper. "I've had enough pain," Tracey says.

She knows she needs more than just the physical therapy she goes to. "I need to get my head right," she says. But that involves leaving the house, talking about herself and facing a stranger. She might be ready to start soon. "I want to be better than I was before," she says. Her best friend is amazed that Tracey didn't let her depression win and didn't give up in the field. "It seems that someone that was feeling that way would say, 'Here's my chance,' but she's fought through it," Veronica says. Tracey wants to start exercising and lose the pounds she has put on. An anonymous benefactor helped her out of debt, and she's got the relationship she wanted. Technically, God gave her almost everything she asked for.

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