The Kid Bounces Back

A boy's death gives snowboarder Chris Klug a second chance at life and the Olympics.

When the mother returned to the trailer not long afterward, she found her son slumped on a bloodstained couch. He'd been shot in the eye but was still breathing. She called 911, believing that there might be hope. But the bullet had entered the boy's brain, and he was already dead; his body just didn't know it yet.

An ambulance whisked the boy off to St. Anthony Central Hospital, where he was placed on life support. At the hospital, a detective interviewed his mother. It was obvious she'd had a rough life. Still, while she may not have been anyone's candidate for mother of the year, she had obviously loved her son and blamed herself. She said she had just stepped out that night to buy cigarettes; if only she'd been there, this never would have happened.

Back at the trailer park, it didn't take detectives long to identify the shooter. A neighbor reported that the fourteen-year-old had stopped by, shown him the gun and told him, "I shot that kid." The boy was found at a pay phone at a local billiard hall and arrested.

Back on board, Chris took his first training runs at Mt. Hood in Oregon.
Melissa April
Back on board, Chris took his first training runs at Mt. Hood in Oregon.
Back on board, Chris took his first training runs at Mt. Hood in Oregon.
Melissa April
Back on board, Chris took his first training runs at Mt. Hood in Oregon.

At the police station, the fourteen-year-old said he and the younger boy had smoked pot and played video games before playing with something more realistic: a gun with a single bullet in it.

"I said, 'Hey, take the bullet out of the gun.' And he said, 'All right'...I was smoking pot at the time," the suspect told the detectives. "And then I said, 'Well, let me see it.'"

He said he pointed the gun at his friend's head, thinking that the bullet had been taken out. And when the younger boy grabbed for the gun, "It just went off, you know," the older boy told them, crying a little. "And it, it was all bright, and my ears were ringing."

He'd left his friend bleeding on the couch, but returned for his marijuana pipes and the gun, worried that his fingerprints would tie him to the shooting. He'd had to reach under the slumped body to dig the weapon out from between the cushions of the couch.

He'd run back to the house of the other kid he'd hung out with that day. It was this friend, he said, who'd loaned him the gun. The two discarded the spent shell, and then he hid the gun in a field behind the mobile home park. After that, he'd settled down by smoking more pot.

Only after he'd gotten high did he think to summon help -- but not an ambulance. He'd called his mom, who was at her job as a cocktail waitress.

After the confession, the detective talked to his superior, who asked, "Think he's telling the truth?" The detective shrugged. It was hard to say. The shooter wasn't as upset as might be expected for someone who had "accidentally" just shot his "best friend." Toward the end, he'd shed a little tear, but it seemed more like an act than a show of genuine remorse. Then there was the coverup -- returning to the scene to retrieve evidence, reaching under the body of a bleeding friend; that was pretty brazen and cool-headed.

The police found the gun in the field. But with the serial numbers gone, there was no way to trace it to its original owner. The boy whom the fourteen-year-old had identified as the owner denied knowing anything about the gun.

The thirteen-year-old lingered on life support through the night and into the next day. There was no chance he'd recover. The sole purpose of the machinery that kept his heart and lungs functioning was to prevent his organs from deteriorating.

After the neurosurgeons had declared the boy brain-dead, his mother was approached by a representative of the Denver-based Donor Alliance, a nonprofit agency that coordinates the recovery of organs and helps match organ and tissue donors with recipients. There was something her boy could still do. His heart, his lungs, his kidneys, pancreas and liver could save the lives of others. But only if the mother agreed.

In an imperfect world, she was asked to put aside her grief for a moment and act for the good of strangers. And in that moment, she made a heroic decision. She reached out and gave the only thing her child had left, a gift of life.

A little before 6 a.m. on July 28, Missy and the Klugs gathered in the waiting room on the transplant floor. Chris sat on the couch, absorbed in a surfing magazine. Missy leaned against him. Chris's sister, Hillary, sat nearby. She had recently returned from France, where she had watched Lance Armstrong take a second triumphant Tour de France spin through Paris.

Warren and Kathy, Chris's mother, stood and sat and stood again. False bravado hung in the air. Warren noted that the record number of laps around the transplant floor for a liver-transplant patient in the first 24 hours after surgery was thirteen. Kathy responded with a strained laugh. "Let's not turn this into another sporting event," she said.

Chris didn't even look up from his magazine. He was frightened but trying not to let his family or girlfriend know just how much. Missy shut her eyes. She couldn't imagine life without Chris and was realizing that nothing was guaranteed on this day.

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