Shooting survivor discusses off-campus safety

Peninsular Place’s head managers decided to let go of Eastern Michigan University shooting survivor Destinee Leapheart’s lease and refund the rent money she had already paid.

Leapheart, a philosophy and psychology double major, was asleep when she was struck in the shoulder by a stray bullet, which came through the wall of her apartment on the morning of Dec. 3.

The safety of the apartment complex had been in question after a string of violent incidents in the area, including the murder of fellow EMU student Julia Niswender a year ago.

Leapheart’s former roommate, Tammy Flowers, who had helped Leapheart through the shooting, has moved into an EMU residence hall. Leapheart herself had been recovering at home with her parents, although she moved into a residence hall as well on Friday.

“The vice president [of Student Well-Being, Ellen Gold] called and came to visit me,” Leapheart said. “She and [EMU President] Susan Martin were going to help me do anything I need to do to get away from Pen Place and into somewhere where I feel safe.”

The outpouring of support she received from the campus community following the incident has been encouraging for Leapheart as she continues to recover from the incident.

“I have gotten a lot of people on Facebook adding me or messaging me saying that they’re there for me and willing to help me with anything I need,” Leapheart said.

In addition, most of her professors have cooperated with her to help her keep up with her studies.

Although she has not been in class since the shooting, she plans to attend her final exams on the scheduled dates and complete her courses on time.

She also hopes to resume marching with the EMU Marching Band, in which she performs as a colorguard, although she is worried she may not recover in time for next year’s season.

“They said that my recovery time is three to six months, more likely six, and six months from now is when we have pre-camp,” Leapheart said.

The pain, which she has been treating with therapy and medication, remains one of the biggest challenges for her.

“It feels like there’s a 20 ton weight on my shoulder,” she said. “I can’t even really do things on my own that much. You find out how much you need both your arms.”

As for the bullet, it remains lodged in Leapheart’s shoulder.

“They said they don’t even want to remove it because it might cause nerve damage,” she said.

Leapheart admitted that she has been having trouble sleeping since the incident, haunted by recollections of the shooting.

“I’ve been having nightmares, panicking, flashbacks,” she said.

Now, her primary concerns are working to improve safety in the area, noting some faults in the way her particular case was handled.

“The security guard actually sat there and told Bobby [Curry, Leapheart’s neighbor who called 911 after hearing the gunshot] that I was being a drama queen and he didn’t even know if I got hit,” Leapheart said. “I don’t even know why he would say that, honestly.”

Another concern is the panic button, a feature installed in every Peninsular Place apartment.

“I pressed it numerous times,” Leapheart said. “I pressed the one in my room a ton of times and then I pressed the one in the hallway and I did not get a response from the security or anything. My biggest worry and my biggest fear is that who knows who else has pressed that button and really needed help?”

Leapheart’s outlook has changed significantly since the incident.

“A part of me thought ‘Why me?’” she said. “‘Why was I chosen to live out of all the things that have happened on campus recently?’ I was thankful that I got to live because I feel like there’s something for me to live for. Clearly God has a plan for me and I feel more now that I want to get involved in getting safety… for people so that this doesn’t happen again.”

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