全omething told me to go back' -- Shooting victim reunites with woman who saved her l
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    Cool 全omething told me to go back' -- Shooting victim reunites with woman who saved her l

    全omething told me to go back' -- Shooting victim reunites with woman who saved her life
    By WENDY JEFFCOAT, T&D Staff Writer

    When Cheryl Brown entered Club 1317 the evening of Feb. 3, 1996, she could have never suspected she would be called on to save another person's life. But that is just what the Orangeburg native did when a gunman opened fire in the Santee club and shot three people, including U.S. Marine Sgt. Denella Brown, a Holly Hill native and the woman who fate called on Cheryl to rescue that evening. On Sept. 17, nearly a decade after the incident and after years of searching, the women met for the first time since February 1996, both of them excited to see the one they are bound to for life through the unfortunate occurrences of that February evening.

    Answering the call

    "Something told me to go back," Cheryl said. "I kept saying, 選 need to go back, I need to go back. Something's telling me to go back.'"

    She and her sister, Tonia Kimbrough, who was at the club with her that night, had fled Club 1317 once gunfire erupted, but sitting in the parking lot, watching the hoards of people leaving the scene, Cheryl said she felt compelled to re-enter the club, a place she said she did not want to even be at that evening, having had a hysterectomy just weeks before.

    "When I went back in, I saw a bunch of people standing around this table," she said. And at that particular table sat Denella, one of the shooting victims. "She was bleeding a lot through her jaw she was sitting up with her head slouched back."

    選 was underwater'

    Denella had just arrived home on leave from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., when two of her cousins decided to go out, dragging the reluctant Marine and young mother to Club 1317.

    In fact, the outing was the first time Denella had been to a club since the birth of her son, Deion, more than two years before. Today, she claims to have had a bad vibe that evening before she left her aunt's house, leaving behind a toddler begging her stay home.

    "He didn't want me to go," she said. "He (Deion) kept saying, 'No, Mommy, don't go.'"

    But Denella went anyway and found herself the unintended victim of a shootout.

    "I was sitting in the booth, waiting for them (my cousins) to tell me they were ready to leave I was the designated driver," she said.

    She glanced at her watch, which read 11:43 p.m. A fight followed.

    Used to military establishments, Denella thought the melee would simply be broken up and the scene return to normal. But that was not the case.

    "The guy pulled out a gun and everyone started running," she recalled. "I heard a pop. I didn't know I was hit. Then everything was muffled, just like when you're underwater. It sounded like that, it felt like that I was underwater."

    But Denella was not underwater she had been shot, the bullet entering her body through her jaw.

    "I remember seeing my grandmothers that were deceased," she said. "That's when I realized I was dying, and I begged them to send me back to my son, 'Little Man.' That was their name for him 'Little Man.'"

    Denella's aunt, who lived across town, told her in the days following the incident that Deion woke up that night at precisely 11:43 p.m., screaming. He couldn't be calmed and eventually quieted on his own several minutes later.

    "The next thing I knew, it felt like someone had hit me in the back. It felt like someone was shoving me, and I took a deep breath. That was the best breath I have ever taken. A guy asked me if I was okay, and I was trying to say, 'Help me,' but I couldn't speak I was mouthing the words," Denella said.

    The guy took off his white sweatshirt and placed it on her wound.

    "I kept thinking, 'I'm messing up his shirt,'" she said. A few minutes passed, and another scare came to the club this time in the form of a vengeful man looking for the person who had shot his sister. Denella claims that gunman never fired his weapon.

    The man holding the shirt to Denella's face quickly left the club, leaving the white, blood-stained rag on the wound.

    A hero emerges

    Cheryl's medical background doesn't go much past basic first aid and CPR. Having watched real-life rescue shows, such as the once-popular "Rescue 911," she knew moving Denella would be risky and could cause worse damage to the woman. She also knew that applying pressure to the wound was of utmost importance.

    "I moved everybody out of the way and asked them to find me a white towel," Cheryl said. While placing pressure on Denella's jaw, she checked out the victim's body to make sure there were no other wounds. All she found was the fateful entry wound, minus an exit.

    While continuing her attempt at saving the young mother's life, Cheryl said she was instructed by several people watching the events unfold that it wasn't wise to help Denella because she could get sued if something happened or the woman died.

    "She (Denella) was alert," Cheryl said. "She grabbed my shirt and pulled me to her. I asked her, 'Do you want me to save your life?' and she pulled my shirt and said, 'Save my life.'"

    The other two people shot that night were transported to the hospital by relatives or friends at the scene. Cheryl said she did not want to risk moving Denella to take her to the hospital.

    "She took charge of the whole situation," Denella said, making sure the police and ambulance were on their way while keeping Denella calm in the moments following the ordeal.

    "When she got quiet, I kept asking her questions," Cheryl said, pointing out the responses became more urgent when Denella was asked about her son. "I had her real still and calm.

    "She just really wanted to live for her son. She just had to live for him."

    Nearly 45 minutes after the shooting, authorities arrived on the scene, followed by emergency medical personnel, who transported Denella to The Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg before she was airlifted to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

    Searching for clues, the police questioned everyone at TRMC who was at the club that evening at the time of the shooting, Denella said.

    "When they found out I was a Marine, everyone was giving up information on who shot me," she said.

    The road to recovery

    If Cheryl had decided to move the young woman, Denella might be paralyzed today.

    In fact, the bullet could not be removed until eight months later. It had come to rest a mere half-inch from Denella's spine, at the base of her neck damaging the main artery leading to her brain, paralyzing her right vocal cord and chipping a piece off her jawbone.

    Denella spent three days in the hospital.

    "I was trying to get home to my son because I knew he was worried," she said. "The second day I was there, they brought him to visit me."

    Her recovery from the wound didn't end in the hospital. Following the shooting, Denella said she had to learn to do the most basic functions swallow, eat and talk all over again. She dropped to 96 pounds and was on a liquid diet, which nourished her through a tube in her nose, for nearly three weeks.

    "I told the doctor I would learn how to eat to get the tube out," she said.


  2. #2
    Because the bullet that hit Denella was the same one that had entered and exited another of the victims that night, she said her wound was not as severe as it could have been.

    Determined to remain 'Semper Fi'

    Medical recovery was not the only obstacle Denella faced in the weeks following the shooting.

    She had been a part of the Marines Corps since enlisting on May 30, 1987. Because of the gunshot wound, the Marines worried she wouldn't be able to keep up with the demands of the job and wanted her out, Denella said.

    However, just two months after she was shot, in April 1996, Denella passed one of the most demanding tests of the military the yearly Physical Fitness Training with a bullet still deep in her neck.

    "I passed the PFT and they let me stay in," she said. "I did everything while the bullet was still in me.

    "I was determined to stay in the Marines."

    The wound would catch up with her eventually. In June 1999, Denella was medically retired from the Marine Corps due to the residual effects of the gunshot wound.

    A shooter goes free

    Denella said family and friends kept her posted on the prosecution of the man who was accused of being the shooter.

    Attorneys also kept her abreast as preparations for the trial were ongoing, but Denella said she was more concerned about whether the man learned from the incident, learned that guns are not the answer to all your problems, than she was about seeing him punished for the crime.

    "I knew I was going to be fine," Denella said. "That is my resilience from being a Marine."

    The suspect was found not guilty of assault and battery with intent to kill when he was tried in October 1997 for the shooting of Denella.

    In a T&D article published Oct. 16, 1997, Deputy First Circuit Solicitor Jimmy Williams, who prosecuted the case, called the decision "a great injustice," saying the jury "failed the citizens of Orangeburg County."

    The suspect claimed he was threatened at gunpoint by another man who confronted him inside the club and fired his weapon. He admitted to firing his own weapon once as well.

    Denella, along with four other witnesses, testified the suspect was the only person who fired a gun that evening.

    "I was disappointed, but I wasn't devastated," Denella said of the verdict. "I just figured I had to go on with my life.

    "I wasn't bitter because prayer had brought me to where I am now. It wasn't the end, and I was determined not to make it the end."

    Always searching

    While in the hospital, Denella continuously asked for the woman who so unselfishly consoled her and held the bloody rags to her jaw for more than half an hour.

    Cheryl made a trip to Charleston to visit the injured woman and made another trip to visit Denella at her grandmother's house in Eutawville a few days after her release from MUSC.

    That was the last time the pair saw one another, barring their reunion last evening.

    "I found her when I got stationed in New York," Denella said. "I would stay up late just to call her to see how she was doing. We kept in touch for about a year or so ... then I lost her because I only had her number at her job."

    The last time they spoke was in 1999.

    "(But) I never gave up looking for her," she said, enlisting the help of her family and the Internet in her search.

    Cheryl said she, too, has continuously sought out Denella, most recently calling every Brown listed in Eutawville in search of a relative. It wasn't until a "freak" conversation took place between relatives of two, centering on club violence and shootings, that they were able to reunite.

    Turns out, after the coworkers swapped stories of their loved ones' experiences, they realized they were talking about the same club shooting.

    Denella's step-sister, Angela James, called her as soon as she could to share the news.

    "I almost dropped the phone I couldn't believe it," Denella said when James called to tell her she had found Cheryl.

    Cheryl said it took Denella two days to return her phone call, the woman was so emotional.

    "She said ... 'I'm really not supposed to be here,'" Cheryl said, quoting one of her conversations with Denella. "I said, 'Yes, you're supposed to be here. That's why God sent me back in that club.'

    "I would do it again. Even if they couldn't speak to me, even if they couldn't tell me to save their life I would save their life and suffer the consequences afterwards."

    A lesson to be learned

    Denella, who just happens to be celebrating her 36th birthday today, now lives in Columbia, where she has been lending her military expertise to the Disabled American Veterans, helping those who pass through its doors settle claims.

    As for clubs, she said she doesn't even bother with them.

    "I don't do civilian clubs anymore," Denella said. "That's not how I wanted to die. I'm not a club person, and I shouldn't die in a club."

    Her advice to young people is simply not to carry weapons settle their differences the "old-fashioned" way.

    "Stop the shooting," she said. "If y'all gonna fight, fight, and live another day. Just stop the shooting.

    "People think guns are toys, and they're not. It changes people's lives forever."


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