KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — One of the two survivors of the Kalamazoo-area shooting rampage spoke publicly for the first time on Thursday, thanking the community for support but also saying she has been “struggling mentally, physically (and) emotionally.”
Tiana Carruthers addressed members of the media during a press conference at Borgess Medical Center. Some of her doctors, community leaders, law enforcement officers, family members and friends were also in attendance.
Carruthers, 25, started by thanking her supporters, telling everyone in the room, “You guys are beautiful.” She also thanked everyone who has supported her:
“The thank you list is so long. It’s unbelievable. I appreciate every flower, every card — which by the way I’m still not finished reading. It’s lovely,” she said. “Thank you for every meal that was given to me and my family. Borgess, you guys are amazing, you guys made it so comfortable for me to be here. There’s so many people who have helped me as far as doctors, hospital staff, just making me comfortable, making sure that I’m safe and secure because Lord knows that I don’t feel safe sometimes, and I don’t feel secure.”
She spoke about her daily struggles after the shooting.
“About eight weeks ago, I could never imagine sitting in front of you,” Carruthers said. “Every day is hard just being a mom, being a friend, being myself. It’s hard just trying to walk, trying to use my arm and I can’t take care of my daughter. It’s not the same. Just being 25 and being in a wheelchair, just trying to walk. I put a smile on my face every day like I’m trying to be the same person that I was, but that is entirely impossible.”
She also mentioned how she knows she has a long road to recovery and didn’t previously feel comfortable making statements.
“I’m struggling mentally, physically, emotionally. Like I said, it’s hard. I know it took me a while to speak with anyone because honestly I was not ready, I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t speak to you today without just crying my eyes out, and I feel like I’m ready now,” she said.
When it comes to the suspected shooter, Jason Dalton, Carruthers says she does not hate him.
“The man who did this to me, for some reason, I do not hate him. I don’t hate him at all and I ask myself every day, ‘Why don’t I hate this man?’ I’m just going to be honest, I feel like I should, but I don’t and sometimes I get angry with myself because I don’t, and I don’t know if anyone could ever understand that and how I feel,” she said.
She said she is even working on forgiving him, but wonders why he did this.
“I’m kind of thinking that I might not ever know why. I might not ever know why, but I know God knows why,” Carruthers said.
She continued to speak of her faith in God.
“When this happened, I knew that somebody or something was with me, and I’m not going to lie to you, I’ll tell you this right here, right now, and if you aren’t a believer, you should believe. I’m not going to tell you what you should do, but believe because I would have never been able to make it out of this without Him because I know somebody was there with me through this whole thing,” she said.
Carruthers also spoke about the other survivor of the shooting spree, 14-year-old Abigail Kopf, saying it should not be a competition between the two for who can receive the most donations.
“I love her. I’ve never met the girl, but I believe what she’s going through is a miracle. She has a whole lot of life to live, I have a whole lot of life to live,” Carruthers said.
She said she has a new outlook on life:
“I plan on taking my life in a completely different direction, completely different,” Carruthers said. “I thought I knew it, but when life changing experiences happen that are abnormal, you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know what to do. I feel like I’m a child at zero months right now.”
She also thanked her daughter.
“She’s so special, man. I love her, just her smile gets me through a day, just one day,” she said.
Her mother, Iona Carruthers, said she is happy her daughter is back home.
“It’s hard because I don’t have my child back the way she was, but I’m grateful just to have her, just to have her at all, it’s just truly a blessing,” she said.
Her clinical social worker, Sherry Sanford, also raved about Carruthers’ spirit:
“Tiana’s an amazing woman and I was very fortunate to work with her. She was an amazing woman before this happened to her and being with her through her entire rehabilitation was an experience I can’t even describe, it’s just really impressive,” Sanford said.
Carruthers previously provided recorded comments at a benefit concert to help her cover medical bills, but other than that had not said anything about what happened and had not made any in-person statements.
According to Michigan State Police records, suspect Jason Dalton told police he pointed his handgun at Carruthers and then emptied the magazine. When the gun jammed, he cleared it and kept firing. He said he knew Carruthers must be dead: “How could you survive that many gunshots?” he reportedly told police.
During the Thursday press conference, Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller described Carruthers as a hero and a “neighbor we all need.”
The shooter would go on to kill father and son Rich and Tyler Smith at a car dealership in Kalamazoo, then open fire on five people at a restaurant in Texas Township. Four of the victims at the restaurant were killed: Mary Jo Nye, Mary Lou Nye, Judy Brown and Barbara Hawthorne. The fifth victim at that location, Kopf, was shot in the head but survived. She is expected to return home soon, though her treatment will continue.
>>Inside woodtv.com: Timeline of Kalamazoo shooting rampage