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What it's like to be shot, Part II

May 24, 2007 |  4:02 pm

Mcgee_bernardshooting_victim

(34-year-old Carl Dixon was killed in the May 9 Florence shooting that also left three other people wounded. Last week, The Homicide Report told this story from the perspective one survivor, Sidney McFarland.

Today, the story is told from the perspective of a second victim, Bernard McGee, 37, McFarland's cousin, who suffered serious wounds to the back and both thighs. The Latino suspects in this case are still at large. Above, McGee looks away as neighbor Latisha Thomas changes the dressing on a wound. Photo by Brian VanderBrug/LAT)

It was still light when Bernard McGee greeted Carl Dixon in front of a house in the 1600 block of East 81st Street. McGee was sitting on the porch. With him was his common-law wife, their 3-month-old baby boy Ejuan, and McGee's cousin, Sidney McFarland.

McGee barely had time to exchange greetings with Dixon. As soon as Dixon sat, there was an explosion of gunfire. "Boom, pac, pac, pac, boom, boom, boom!" McGee said, recalling the sound. A group of people were shooting from behind a wall. McGee looked at Dixon. He saw the red fabric of Dixon's shirt whip, as if a strong breeze were yanking it. Dixon was being shot in the torso.

Then McGee felt two little sharp jabs in his legs. Quick piercings. One in each thigh. He felt no pain. But he had a clear sensation of two tiny objects plunging into his flesh. He knew had been hit. Instinct, or adrenalin, put him in motion. He was running. "I had no choice," he said. "My legs got up and went."

As McGee got to the door of the house, he felt his own shirt whip and jerk, the fabric gently brushing his spine. It was a bullet. McGee had been shot in the back. He hit the floor, lying on the carpet just inside the door. His wife jumped over him.

After a lifetime on 81st, McGee could distinguish different types of gunfire. He knew there were at least two guns--a pistol and an assault rifle. The floor beneath him vibrated with the blasts. Large, brassy rifle shells bounced before his eyes. McGee looked down into the carpet. They would all soon be dead, he recalled thinking.

Finally the gunfire stopped. People were shouting, screaming, running back and forth. McGee couldn't feel anything. He couldn't move.

The paramedics put a neck brace on him. In the ambulance, they looked over his wounds. There were long rips through each leg, and a bullet wound in the small of his back. "Looks like they shot you with an AK-47," one paramedic told him. "Your muscles are all torn up." They told him he'd been lucky.

McGee rode all the way to St. Francis hospital thinking he was probably paralyzed. The street rolled past under the wheels. It seemed to take a long, long time. McGee bitterly imagined the aid car passing King-Drew hospital's now-shuttered trauma center, going on 10 minutes further to St. Francis.

Sometime after he woke up from surgery, a doctor asked him to move his toes. He obeyed, and they moved. He wasn't paralyzed. The bullet in the back had not penetrated far enough.

But the ones that struck his leg had ripped deeply into the flesh, carving long furrows. His nerves were damaged. At home, two days later, he managed to drag himself up on crutches. He was afraid to go outside. He tried not to think about what had happened: especially seeing Dixon killed. He tried not to dwell on how close his wife and son had come to death.

McGee is part of a large, close, extended family, all living in the same neighborhood. Their matriarch is a 97-year-old woman, whom everyone in the family calls "Mama." She was born a Mississippi sharecropper, came west with a few dollars in her pocket in the waning days of the Great Migration, settled in Florence, and remains there today. McGee, her grandson, is part of a generation of this family that has come to see the promise of Los Angeles as badly broken. For black migrants, "It was supposed to be the land of milk and honey," McGee's sister Patricia Jackson said. "But it wasn't."

When his neighbor, Latisha Thomas, came over to pour alcohol over his legs into a tin pan and change his dressings, McGee found he that he couldn't watch. One glance down at his own stitched legs, and he broke out in a cold sweat and nearly fainted.

Next time Thomas came over, Thomas tried a different strategy. After working off the bandage tape with trembling hands, he looked away, and let Thomas remove the gauze. As she worked, he stared rigidly out the window. 

(See listing: Carl Dixon)

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