RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A former Huguenot High School student survives being shot seven times, and now he's telling his story.
Elijah Johnson says he was trying to protect his girlfriend's grandmother when it happened earlier this year. He's one of almost two dozen young people who have been shot in the city of Richmond this year.
Now the trauma team at VCU and police are trying to do more for victims just like Johnson.
It was a game of Madden that brought social worker Ade Mason and Johnson together. The first face off was in a hospital room at VCU.
"This is how we met," says Mason as he tries to score two more points. "I walked into the room...he had just kicked a social worker out of the room. So when I walked in, I didn't want to just talk to him straight about the program."
That program called Bridging the Gap was supposed to help Johnson in his recovery. The senior at Huguenot high School had just survived being shot seven times.
"I got shot in the shoulder, it went out the back I believe," says Johnson, who showed the NBC12 news crew the scars that now cover his body.
By September 2017, police say 18 people underage have been shot in Richmond.
Johnson survived to tell his story. He says it happened as he was trying to protect his girlfriend's grandmother.
"I walked out the door, and I looked to my right, and I saw the dude had her at gunpoint," he said. "So I just ran in there and put my life on the line and started fighting the dude."
Johnson says two men fired their guns at him, and he remembers each bullet as it hit his body.
"I was shot once in the arm, first he shot me in the shoulder and I felt the shoulder one and I was like, 'did I just get shot?'" says Johnson. "Then I got shot in the middle of my chest, then I was like 'I think I'm going to die.'"
Even after that, the bullets didn't stop.
"My arm was snapped in half from the bullet," he said. "So I thought I was going to lose my arm, to be honest with you. I was sitting in a pool of my own blood."
Johnson was rushed to VCU Medical Center. The trauma team saved his life, but the teenager who was once a standout athlete had to learn how to walk again.
"I had offers from schools, and I got shot on a signing day," he said.
His dreams of playing ball or even joining the Army were shattered. On top of the physical injuries, there was the mental trauma as well.
"I used to have dreams of getting killed and everything," he said. "It wasn't good."
That's why social workers like Mason worked to reach the young man and encouraged him to sign up for the program Bridging the Gap. It is intensive-case management that a person can volunteer to be a part of - specifically for young people who have survived violent injuries.
"Unfortunately, some of them have normalized the trauma and say it's just an everyday occurrence in their neighborhood, and unfortunately they don't realize it's a traumatic experience," says Mason.
After that, there are other programs they can choose to be a part of, with the hope it breaks the cycle of violence. Extra reinforcement is now coming from a new network called RVA Alternative Pathways, a partnership between VCU Medical Center and police to establish a central database that shares resources, information and data on victims like Johnson.
"Having those connections, it makes it easier for me to make those referrals and cuts through some of that red tape," says Mason.
It's been eight months since the shooting, and Johnson is trying to move on with his life.
"I don't blame the dude that came and shot me," he said.
He says the shooter's brother was killed a few nights before, and he may have been looking for somebody else in the house. It is a cycle of violence this young man wants no part of.
"I think about my family more than anything," says Johnson. "I knew if I would have retaliated, I would put my family in danger. That's just a non-stop beef. So I just put it to the dirt."
Johnson is back in school and is studying to become, of all things, a nurse. He wants to work in the trauma center.
"At this point, I feel like if somebody can help me, why not have the chance to help somebody else," says Johnson.
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