In December 2010, then-sixteen-year-old Karina Vargas was shot while standing outside Aurora Central High School, where she was a student. The bullet, which was intended for someone else, hit her in the lower back, paralyzing her from the waist down. The shooter, reputed gang member Luis Guzman-Rincon, was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Now, nearly three years later, Vargas is faced with outstanding medical bills and the prospect of having to pay thousands to modify her home and transportation.
But her supporters, including her attorney, are rallying around her to help make that happen. Last night, they hosted an event at the Edge Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Denver to kick off a fundraising effort through the Denver Center for Crime Victims. (To donate, follow this link, choose the "Emergency Fund" option and write "Karina" in the Comments section.)
Vargas, who's now eighteen, uses a wheelchair due to her paralysis. Her supporters estimate it will cost $85,000 to modify her home to make it wheelchair accessible. Though her family added a ramp to the front of their house, Vargas says it's so steep that she can't get up it without someone pushing her. (Her wheelchair is not motorized.) And the steps that lead from her home to her backyard prevent her from going outside that way.
Vargas's supporters are also hoping to raise $50,000 to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle, because the the family doesn't have one. They do, however, have about $60,000 in outstanding medical bills; they were uninsured at the time of the shooting and have since been unable to pay for ongoing treatment. Since Vargas was released from the hospital in January 2011, she says she's relied on her mother for transportation and physical therapy.
Vargas did not return to Aurora Central and is now enrolled in online classes to finish her degree. She's spent some time over the past couple years volunteering for the advocacy organization Together Colorado on issues such as immigration reform and gun violence prevention, and in February, she testified before the state legislature in favor of a bill requiring background checks for private gun sales.
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She says she's looking forward to graduating and going to college, where she hopes to study culinary arts and business. "My life has changed," she says. "But you have to make the best of it, because you're still alive."
More from our Follow That Story archive: "Jenny Kush's friends share memories of cannabis activist killed by drunk driver."Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at email@example.com