Temple University Hospital's trauma outreach coordinator Scott Charles wants to do everything for young gunshot victims. Keeping them from returning to the emergency room is a good start.
"You can't see the volume we see and think that 90 percent is random," he says. "But a lot of these dudes feel stupid for having gotten shot. It means they got caught slippin'. I'm one more person they don't want to tell the truth to. They don't want to be judged."
Trust takes time. After Charles promises to come back, and he does, the stories change. But in many ways he doesn't care. For now it's nothing but a tragedy, and the window is closing.
So much about the city's gun violence is out of Charles' hands, if only because of its sheer complexity.
One victim, Charles remembers, got shot in the backside. The bullet clipped his femoral artery, and he bled to death. Another victim was shot 11 times at close range, and walked out of the hospital days later.
For some of the victims, the shooting is random, like the 16-year-old who got shot in the back of the head while riding his bike, a case of mistaken identity. Days later, he's still on a ventilator, part of his skull gone.
There's the 19-year-old boy who was robbed at a bus stop on payday. He lives with the aftershocks of getting shot: a colostomy bag and missing toes.
There's Ciera, 20, a shy, skinny community college student who was sitting on the step chatting with friends when her shooter ran up and opened fire. A bullet shattered a bone in her left arm. The surgeons at Temple took a bone from her hip to replace it and sewed her hand across her stomach to keep it stationary. They also reconstructed her elbow.
Eight months later, she still goes to therapy every day. She had to learn how to walk again and is still working to regain full use of her arm, which she almost lost to infection. She's homeless, and her medical bills exceed $300,000.
On this day Charles gives her a hug, and whispers that she's going to get through this. But Ciera still worries.
"When I'm at the bus stop, I think, 'That could be him,'" she says of her unidentified shooter. "He could get me again."
There's the girl, 25, whose friends pleaded with her to go out to a club one night. She ended up getting shot outside the club, caught in a gun battle. She has severe vascular damage in both her arms and legs.
There's the 20-year-old single father of two who's hobbled by leg braces and a colostomy bag. The first time he was shot over what seemed like a petty dispute. The second time he was shot in the back for no reason at all. He tells Charles the worst thing is not being able to chase after his kids.
|Investing in a better future: Wall Street, a former basketball star and aspiring rapper, lost a leg to gun violence.|
And there's Wall Street, 19, a former high school basketball star and aspiring rap artist. His lanky body is decorated with tattoos. The one on his neck reads: "One Man Army." He lost his leg confronting the guy who stole several thousand dollars of his drug money.
"I can't forget that I got shot," he says. "I can't forget that I lost a leg. I have regrets, but I don't get mad. I'm really supposed to be gone for real for real."
He sees his shooting as a turning point. "It wasn't my downfall," he says. "It was my upbringing. People gonna respect me more on my get back. They gonna look at me as a success, as a conqueror, not just a person who used to play ball or as a person who plays music but a person that overcame adversity."
For some it's a rite of passage. Like for the 14-year-old who asked one of the doctors to take his picture with his cell phone.
One 21-year-old never takes off his headphones when Charles talks to him in his hospital bed. Charles later learns he's not eligible for the program because he's under arrest.
For others the moment has potential. Chubby-faced David, 15, shows up at the clinic for the vascular damage to his leg. Charles has been unable to contact him for months. When he finally finds him, David's stretched out across the plastic chairs in the back of the waiting room. Charles has to shake him awake.
"Tell me what you need," Charles says.
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