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Woman refuses to let 11 gunshots claim her life, mobility or faith

WARROAD, Minn. -- Tammy Peterson is back at Thomson's Snyder Drug on Lake Street, working seven hours a day in the pharmacy, keeping the books. Some call it a miracle. She drives a car unaided and lives on her own in a home just off a lush golf c...

WARROAD, Minn. -- Tammy Peterson is back at Thomson's Snyder Drug on Lake Street, working seven hours a day in the pharmacy, keeping the books.

Some call it a miracle.

She drives a car unaided and lives on her own in a home just off a lush golf course fairway, and some would call those miracles, too. Peterson does.

And with the aid of a leg brace and a cane, she is walking. Two and a half years ago, after she was shot 11 times by an ex-boyfriend, doctors had told Peterson she probably wouldn't walk again.

Shot. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven times.

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A bullet remains lodged in her spine. An X-ray image shows two bullet fragments still encroaching on a kidney, requiring a stent that has to be replaced every six months. Doctors had to repair her liver and stomach and remove her spleen and several sections of intestine. She's approaching her 20th surgery and must fight daily through pain.

But she's working. She drives. She walks.

She lives.

A house divided

They were together for more than five years, but Terry Weinard had turned moody and distant. He and Peterson still shared a house in Warroad, but by November 2005 they were living separate lives, keeping largely to separate floors. They rarely spoke.

Peterson had her job and friends at the drugstore, owned by her next-door neighbors, the Thomsons. She joined a church and divided her free time between Bible study and fishing with her parents, who come from Thief River Falls in the summer to a camper by the water in Warroad.

Her dog, a dainty Pomeranian named Tiffany, eased some of her loneliness at home.

Late in 2003, Peterson asked Weinard to leave. He told her that he was sick -- stomach cancer -- and had just months to live. She relented. But a year passed, and another. Peterson began to doubt that Weinard was sick, and again she asked him to leave. She set a deadline: November 2005.

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"I wanted to get on with my life and maybe meet someone who cared about me," she said.

On Nov. 11, a friend drove Peterson home from evening Bible study, and Peterson was surprised to see that Weinard was still there. "He usually went out drinking," she said.

"Are you OK?" the friend asked as Peterson stepped from the car.

"I'll be fine," she said.

Weinard was downstairs. Peterson went to her room upstairs, following the routine of separation. But after about two hours, she heard Weinard climbing the stairs. When he came into her room, she saw he was carrying a gun.

She sat on a couch, clutching her dog. He sat in a chair facing her.

He pointed the gun at Peterson, but he spoke to her dog: "I'm sorry, Tiffany, that you won't have Tammy anymore."

Peterson pleaded for her life. God had plans for them both, she told Weinard, but he sneered at a faith he didn't share.

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As they sat facing each other, Peterson saw the gun barrel dip toward the floor. She took her chance, bounding from the couch, pushing Weinard aside and racing out the door.

She heard Weinard coming after her. As she reached the neighbors' house, she turned and saw him squat by the garage, aiming.

The first shot struck her in the hip.

"Just go down," she told herself. "Don't scream. Let him think he got me good."

But he shot her again. And again. And again.

Peterson thought she heard six or seven shots.

"They told me later it was 11," she said.

She lay bleeding on her neighbors' porch, with wounds to her legs, arms, hip, back and abdomen. As sirens signaled the approach of police, Weinard, who apparently had used a round in the chamber plus a 10-shot clip, retreated inside and reloaded. He sat in the chair and put a single slug in his head. He died a few hours later.

Despite all her wounds, Peterson remained conscious as paramedics rushed her to a hospital in nearby Roseau, Minn.

"We're almost to the hospital," she told the attendants at one point.

"How do you know?"

"We just went over the railroad tracks."

At Roseau, doctors said she had to go to MeritCare Medical Center in Fargo. She heard someone say the flight would take 45 minutes.

"I don't think I have 45 minutes," Peterson said.

That was more than 30 months ago.

The first step

After more than six months in the hospital and a nursing home, Peterson moved in with a sister in Bemidji, where she continued rehabilitation therapy. Unable to stand, bend, stretch or reach, she had to relearn how to dress and otherwise care for herself.

"I'll never forget the day I first stood up," she said. "I started by raising myself a little in my tilt-bed. Each time, I did a little more. It hurt. But one day, I stood.

"People said I'd never walk again" and "it was stupid for me to be there, in rehabilitation."

A therapist impressed by her determination helped her work on parallel bars. She used her good arm -- bones were shattered in the other -- to pull herself across, gradually asking her legs to take more weight.

After weeks of agonizing effort, Peterson stood by herself.

"Pick up your foot," the therapist told her.

Peterson lifted her right foot and set it down, an inch or two forward.

"You did it!" the therapist cried. "You did it! You took your first step!"

A doctor came into her room the next day. "What are you doing?" he asked, smiling. "A paraplegic can't walk."

Peterson beamed.

"I'm a walking paraplegic," she said.

Going home

In the hospital, she had told her family and other visitors that she would never return to Warroad.

"But I prayed about it," she said.

And Warroad beckoned. Peterson's pastor called to report that a couple in the congregation had a place for her to rent, half of their duplex, where they could check on her. Another church member offered a used car. The drugstore wanted her back.

On June 22, 2007, she went home. Two days later, she went back to work. The people at the drugstore welcomed her with a cake.

"We didn't let her come back," supervisor Melissa Wells said. "We made her come back."

Wells said she had expected the worst after the shooting. "I didn't think she'd make it through the night. But she did, and it made believers out of a lot of people. She's a walking miracle, for sure."

Peterson said the response from the community has been wonderful and reassuring. "People still come up to say they're so glad to see me back," she said.

"I'll admit there were a few days when I wanted to tell people, 'To heck with this; leave me alone.' It took 45 minutes to get my pants on, using straps because I couldn't bend. I cried, and I wanted to say, 'Forget it!'

"But I kept plodding along, and I'm getting stronger all the time. I have more feeling in my left leg. That's the next step -- getting rid of this leg brace and cane."

She still struggles with pain in her back. Medication helps, she said, and "you have to make up your mind to tolerate it and live with it."

Her long, determined recovery has impressed her parents. "We never realized she was the fighter she is," said Dolly Shetler, her mother. "It has deepened her faith in God (and) caused her to become a better person: more conscientious, more dedicated, more honest.

"When she made it to that hospital alive, I knew she'd make it. God would not have kept her alive only to die there."

She glanced across the narrow camper to her daughter.

"It gives a mother a strong sense of security," Shetler said, "knowing your children are in God's hands."

No nightmares, no fear

The shooting still intrudes on Peterson's memory, though less frequently now. She said she has had no nightmares, but she misses the man Weinard was, funny and caring, at the start of their relationship.

"Certain things will remind me of him," she said. "Going through the boxes of my stuff the first time was hard. There were a lot of tears then. And I cried when I went back to the old house. I liked that house."

She said that she has forgiven him.

"I feel bad he's gone. But part of me is glad, too -- I have no fear of him coming back and finishing me off."

A few months ago, she called Weinard's daughter from an earlier relationship to arrange for the young woman to receive her father's things.

"I told her I wanted to meet her," Peterson said. "I always had wanted to meet her. I never met any of his family. But I haven't heard from her since."

She is without Tiffany, too, the little Pomeranian she clutched in terror the night Weinard tried to kill her. Tiffany bonded with another patient at the rehab center, Peterson said, and -- knowing it would be many months before she could care for the dog -- she let Tiffany stay when she left.

"I still cry about that," she said.

But she continues to take steps forward. Her next step: organizing, with the help of her church, a community program she's calling "Helping Hands," to provide rides, lawn work and other assistance to the elderly and disabled.

"I've always been a caregiver," she said.

She is open, she said, to the idea of a new relationship, "if the right one comes along."

And she has advice for women who find themselves in difficult, possibly dangerous relationships.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help, whether from the authorities or from family and friends," she said. "So many women are ashamed or scared.

"Be brave. Get help. Get away. Don't stay and take it, feeling you don't have a choice."

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