The Kid Bounces Back

Page 10 of 18

In the waiting room, Missy and the Klugs were getting antsy. Evans's report had been hours ago. To pass the time, Missy had started a journal of sorts on the pages of Chris's surf magazine. "It hurt me to see him so frightened," she wrote of the moments before he was wheeled off to surgery. "I told him to dream of waves and our next surf vacation. I hope he can."

As they waited and prayed, they had all been reminded again of the price that had been paid for the new opportunity. An older man sitting in a wheelchair near them had been listening in on their conversation while he read the newspaper. He finally asked if they had a family member who was getting a liver transplant. When they told him, the man nodded and held up the newspaper he'd been reading and showed them a headline and story.

"Boy Wounded by Gunshot Dies: Police Investigating to Determine if Handgun Shooting Was Accidental," read the headline.

"A thirteen-year-old boy, allegedly shot by a fourteen-year-old friend, died Thursday at St. Anthony Central Hospital," the story began.

"'This is all a nightmare,'" the boy's grandmother was quoted. "'I'm just hoping it was an accident.'"

"The fourteen-year-old could face charges ranging from first-degree murder to criminally negligent homicide," the story went on.

"'I think people should be more aware of what's going on in their household, and if they have guns, lock them up where children can't get hold of them,'" the grandmother said. "'Nobody's been exposed to guns in our family. I don't allow them.'"

She was quoted as saying that her grandson was "'a typical teenager...He was just a lovable kid. Everybody loved him.'"

"The family was left to find solace Thursday in those memories and the knowledge that he might help others to live because his organs were donated," the article concluded.

As parents, Warren and Kathy Klug wondered at the compassion the boy's mother had demonstrated in the midst of her grief. They were all signed up to be organ donors in the event of a tragedy, but they knew how devastated they would be to lose one of their children and couldn't imagine having to make such a decision. It was hard to fathom the courage that had moved this woman to reach out to strangers. They would have to try to find a way to thank her someday, but they had no idea of what words would be adequate.

At last, Kam walked into the room and came over to them. "It went as smooth as could be," he said, as if he'd done nothing more than change the oil in their car. "Everything is fine. He's awake."

Still, he warned, there could be bleeding; the sutures might not hold. They would have to wait and see. "The first 24 to 48 hours are critical," Kam added.

When Kam was done talking, the Klugs and Missy burst into applause. Kam, caught off guard, turned red. "Thank you," he said with a little bow. "That was new for me."

Two hours later, Warren and Missy poked their heads into Chris's room on the transplant floor. His mother had had to take Hillary to the airport as soon as they got the word. Chris had his eyes closed but opened them at the sound of their voices. He smiled weakly, raised a fist and announced, "I rule!" His father and girlfriend each moved to a different side of the bed and took his hands in theirs. "Thank you, God," his father began to pray. "Thank you for this miracle."

When his father finished, Chris joined in to say "Amen." But a moment later, his smile evaporated and his eyes watered as he added, "I just wish that kid didn't have to die."

The admitted killer said he, too, was sorry that his buddy got shot. But not everyone believed he was truly remorseful.

The Monday following Chris's surgery, the district attorney filed charges of reckless manslaughter and weapons violations. It was a close call, but in the end, the DA also decided to charge the offender as a juvenile instead of as an adult, which meant that he would serve two years in a juvenile detention facility at the most.

Some believed the charge should have been murder, with the possibility of a lengthy prison term, especially when it became evident that the young man had not shown a lot of remorse while locked up. But the accused and his lawyer knew a good deal when they saw it and quickly pleaded guilty on July 31, whereupon sentencing was set for September.

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Steve Jackson