A Nov. 15 Metro article incorrectly identified the hospital where Katie Weyer spent her 17th birthday after she was accidentally shot at a pool party in Howard County. She was treated at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, not Johns Hopkins Hospital. (Published 11/24/05).
A tiny divot is still visible on the tip of 18-year-old Katie Weyer's nose, a reminder of the feeding tube that practically rubbed her cartilage right off.
Her once-lovely singing voice is now husky from the ventilator that chafed her vocal cords until they were raw. And just above her right collarbone is a small scar -- the size of a mole -- that marks the entrance of the bullet that nearly took her life.
It happened last year, on the lazy afternoon of July 6. Weyer had woken up late, as usual. After taking her younger brother, Jake, to Blockbuster, she and a friend headed to a classmate's house in western Howard County to hang out.
Weyer had never met Benjamin Mark Allen before arriving at his family's home, although they both attended Glenelg High School. Allen had just graduated, a grade ahead of Weyer, and they had mutual friends. Everyone was swimming in the backyard pool when she got there.
Weyer didn't have a bathing suit, so she just dangled her legs in the water.
"Eventually, I guess, everyone got bored," she said later.
Some of the boys decided to shoot squirrels to pass the time. But Weyer wasn't interested. She wanted to swim, so her host agreed to lend her a suit. She went inside the house to change and use the bathroom. Allen went inside to get his father's gun, a .22-caliber Hi-Standard revolver.
According to court documents, Weyer came out of the bathroom and saw Allen across the hall in the study, the gun in his hand.
"You shouldn't play with guns," she said, according to the documents.
"Oh really?" he responded.
He made a joking sound and pointed the gun in her direction, the documents say. He pulled the trigger. A bullet fired. Weyer crumpled to the ground.
"I'm gonna die! I'm gonna die!" she remembered saying. Her friends tried to stop the bleeding from her chest with a blue washcloth, but soon everyone was covered in blood.
Allen called 911. Police and emergency workers arrived minutes later and loaded Weyer onto a cold yellow stretcher to be flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
She spent more than two months in the hospital. Her right lung collapsed, and doctors had to crack open her chest and massage her heart by hand to make it start beating again. She needed so much blood that the hospital ran out of her type, A negative. Her 17th birthday, six weeks after the shooting, was spent at John Hopkins Hospital with hospital staff and a few family members and friends. Weyer had wanted to have a big pool party.
"This was suppose to be the best summer of my life but instead it was the worst summer I will probably have," she said in written court testimony.
Allen told the court that he thought the gun was not loaded and that he did not intentionally aim at Weyer. He was convicted in June of reckless endangerment and sentenced to 11/2 years in prison; he also had to take a gun safety class and tour the trauma unit where Weyer was treated. He was released in August.
Weyer found out that Allen was out of jail just after her 18th birthday. There is a good chance they might run into each other in the community -- at the gas station, or maybe at the mall. She's not sure what she would say to him if she saw him. She might just turn and walk away.
'Getting There, Slowly'
Weyer's mother, Susan, said Allen's parents came to the hospital a few days after the incident. They brought balloons and flowers and a card that said they were glad she was feeling better.
Katie Weyer knows that forgiving Allen would be the Christian thing to do -- the incident has brought her closer to God, she said. But that doesn't make it easy.
"I'm working on it. Getting there, slowly," she said.
For the Weyer family, normal is different now. Weyer finished her senior year at Glenelg High in the spring, returning just in time for the prom and graduation.
She is now in her freshman year at Howard County Community College; she stayed close to home for health reasons.
Her hospital bills have totaled more than $300,000. The Weyers have filed a civil suit against the Allens, who declined to be interviewed for this article.
Weyer and her mother have found a little piece of salvation: working with the Red Cross. It has become an avenue for them to channel the hurt and confusion they have felt since Katie was shot. As a team, they were named spokesmen of the year recently in their Red Cross region.
Katie Weyer enlisted her friends to donate blood and volunteer at blood drives. "You could save a life," she would tell them.
At their fourth drive, at Camden Yards in Baltimore recently, she walked among the blood donors, fetching them drinks and sharing her story. She can speak in ready sound bites about the importance of giving blood and the dangers of playing with guns. She can even talk about the shooting without tears. But those listening are often not so lucky.
"I heard you're making people cry," said Hector Garcia, a volunteer.
Just one woman, Weyer said. But it was still early in the day.
'Coping and Moving On'
The memories come back to her during quiet moments, like before she goes to sleep. There are also the small but constant daily reminders: the scar across her chest from surgery, the medicine she must take to ward off blood clots and the fact that she has lost the ability to holler.
Susan Weyer said she worries that her daughter holds too much inside.
"I think at times she just doesn't like to talk about it, and this may be her way of coping and moving on," she wrote in a letter to a reporter. "Katie tells me, 'Well, Mom, I had to go through these things, and I had no choice.' I told her this is true, but HOW you choose to go through these things is what impressed me so much. She is honestly one of the bravest people I know."
But Katie Weyer said she wants to move past the shooting. After all, she's still just a teenager. When the blood drive at Camden Yards was over, she and her 12-year-old brother, Jake, couldn't stop bickering.
Susan Weyer takes it as a good sign that they're bickering again. It's a sign that the crisis is over, even if they never can really forget.
Katie Weyer and her brother Jake are back to bickering -- a sign to their mother that the crisis has passed.