One Bullet Changes Life Of Teen

Susan Crim's journey

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Moments before 17-year-old Susan Crim lost consciousness, she looked up and heard a nurse say, "This girl is going to be paralyzed for the rest of her life."

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As a Payson High School senior, 17-year-old Susan Crim had already been accepted to nursing school and was ready for the future she had planned. But a bullet from a stolen gun changed everything for her, and her 5-year-old brother, Cole.

As a senior at Payson High School, Crim planned to be a nurse and had already been accepted to the Northern Arizona University School of Nursing. With only four months of high school to complete, her plans were abruptly halted by a bullet from a stolen handgun.

She had been living with friends at a rented home on West Palmer Drive in Payson.

One of her roommates was her then-boyfriend Frederick Parra Ortiz.

She had only been living in the shared home a few weeks, and was feeling uncomfortable about her 2-month-old relationship with Ortiz.

On Jan. 19, 2006, she called her father, Jeff Crim, and shared her concerns.

"After talking to my father I made the decision to move back home," Susan said.

That evening after work, she walked into her bedroom at Palmer Drive. It would be the last time she would walk anywhere.

What happened in that room is still being debated and bargained over within the legal process, but there is one certainty, a bullet fired by a gun in the hands of Ortiz struck Susan in the neck and severed her spinal cord.

Susan now faces life as a C6-C7 quadriplegic.

"A C6-C7 quadriplegic means I can't feel or move anything from below my breast line, or just below my armpits," Susan explained. "I can use my arms, but I have limited use of both my hands. It also means that my muscles in my arms are not as strong, and I don't have triceps."

Recurring memories

The memory of that night still haunts Susan and her family.

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Susan Crim's PHS senior portrait, taken shortly before the shooting.

"Once the gun went off, I realized I didn't have any feeling -- it was like a numbness went over my whole body," Susan recalls. "I knew there was something seriously wrong. It's kind of an indescribable feeling. It was like everything went in slow motion. I remember everything from that night -- when the police arrived, being put on the stretcher, and being taken to the helicopter. And I have a really big fear of helicopters. It was scary."

Susan was airlifted to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn. She remained conscious as emergency crews wheeled her into the hospital.

"I was in shock, I couldn't believe what was going on," Susan said. "It was like I was watching someone else's life. Even when I was in the ambulance and on the helicopter I had a million thoughts going through my mind and wondering what my future would be. And then when the nurse said that, that's when it clicked that I might be paralyzed."

Determination

Susan, now 18, has proven to be a fighter.

"Susan is still just as motivated as ever," said her father, Jeff Crim. "She is taking online courses so she can graduate high school and go to college. She is determined to go to college and have a career and earn her own way. She is a fighter and the strongest person I have ever seen. She is one of many survivors. At Craig Hospital, I have seen many cases of spinal injury and learned a great deal about the human spirit."

Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo. specializes in spinal cord injuries and was Susan's home for four months following a 35-day stay at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn.

"I have a little brother, Cole. He's five," Susan said. "While I was in Scottsdale, Cole wasn't allowed to see me at all, and that was kind of hard on him. But then I was moved to Colorado, the Craig Hospital, and Cole was allowed to come with me and was with me every day for almost four months."

From February until June, Cole and Susan lived in the hospital together.

"Some people might disagree that a boy so young shouldn't have been living at a hospital that long, but he really helped me. He made me smile when no one else could. He's awesome," Susan said. "He knows more about spinal cord injuries than any five-year-old boy I know."

First words

Susan said her family was her lifeline, but she couldn't speak a word to them for two months.

"In the beginning, I was intubated, and then they had me on a ventilator to help me breathe. So, I couldn't talk for 60 days, and my mom got really good at lip reading," Susan said. "The (doctors) have a long weaning process for ventilator patients. They take you off the ventilator for five minutes at a time. It's a very strange feeling to have to learn how to breathe again. It's hard to describe. The first time that I was able to say anything my voice was very coarse. My parents were in the room and I only had about three minutes to say what I wanted to tell them. So I told them, ‘You guys are my world.'"

Susan's mother helps with the daily routine of getting Susan up every morning to bathe her and get her to physical therapy.

"My daughter Susan is the most courageous person I've ever known," said Mary Crim. "In the hospital and in rehab I watched her overcome everything. For spinal cord injury survivors it takes a lot of time and repetition to become as independent as possible. I know that Susan will go to college, have a great career, and someday a family. My daughter is an inspiration to me and many others."

Looking forward

"What keeps me going now is just thinking that even though I am wheelchair-bound I'm still the same person I was before," Susan said. "But this disability has given me a new outlook on life. I appreciate everything in my life. Before, I took a lot for granted, not just the material things, but even that I could do cartwheels and run. I appreciate my family so much more now."

Many people have asked Susan about what happened, but she would rather look forward than back.

"When people talk about fate -- it's hard to say. Some people were telling me this happened for a reason, but that's really hard to believe," she explained. "As each day passes, I look for more reasons to keep going and find a new mission in life. This is kind of my second chance at life. I can make the best of it or I can let it get the best of me.


The CaseFrederick Parra Ortiz was charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm and theft (for the stolen gun). He has agreed to a plea agreement that would drop the theft charge and reduce the first charge to a misdemeanor upon completion of a successful probation. Ortiz is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, Sept. 19 in Payson Superior Court. According to the pre-sentencing report, the probation officer will recommend rejection of the plea agreement, describing it as a "miscarriage of justice."

"In the beginning, I did a lot of asking ‘what if' -- what if this, and what if that," Susan said. "But then I realized I needed to accept it and get on with my life.

"I think now my future is going to be a lot harder, but I have the dedication and will to make it the best, so I have a bright future..."-- Susan pauses as if rethinking this answer, and then softly recants "... an interesting future."

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