Years after being shot, his pain remains
The gunman has moved on, but the victim of a 2006 Oregon high school shooting can’t do the same
roseburg, ore.— Joseph Dominic Monti was 16 when a friend jealous of his popularity with girls approached him from behind at Roseburg High School and shot him four times. One hollow-point bullet severed the nerves in his left leg. Another left fragments embedded at the base of his spine.
Now 25, Monti walks with a limp, can’t hold a steady job, lives on food stamps and was overcome last week when he heard that another gunman had killed nine people at another school nearby, the local community college where Monti once considered taking classes.
“When you’re a victim of something like this and you hear about it happening to other people, it affects you deeper than people understand,” Monti said in his first extended interview since his shooting. “It’s almost like somebody inmy own family died.”
Plagued by anxiety and constant pain, Monti leads an existence forever altered.
His journey to recovery provides a glimpse into the challenges many of last week’s survivors might face as they return to their lives with new scars, both physical and emotional.
But when President Obama visited Roseburg on Friday to meet privately with families who lost loved ones at Umpqua Community College, he entered a community where mourning is tempered by an enthusiasm for firearms. Many residents question how the most recent shooter, Chris Harper Mercer ,26, was able to amass a small arsenal of weapons without raising suspicions. Others see nothing unusual about keeping multiple guns in the home.
Monti’s views on firearms are colored by his experience. He said schools should be gun-free but that the rights of upstanding citizens should not be infringed.
“Crazy people shouldn’t have guns. I think good people should have guns,” Monti said. “Because they could be there to save people from bad people with guns.”
When Monti’s family moved to Roseburg from Northern California in 2004, he hoped for a better life. His childhood had been shattered in grade school by the loss of his father, who died of cirrhosis. Monti found relief in a friendship with a neighbor, Vincent Wayne Leodoro, who lived on a ranch two miles away over a ridge.
Monti said Leodoro often visited his house to jump on his trampoline and rock out in his room to the heavy metal band Korn. But Monti noticed a fissure in their relationship in February 2006, when it became clear that the boys had a crush on the same girl. On Valentine’s Day, Monti said, they both bought her gifts.
Nine days later, on Feb. 23, Leodoro, then 14, brought a backpack filled with ammunition to school and hid a silver and black handgun under his gray hooded sweatshirt. Police never charged another teenager who allegedly served as an accomplice — a person Monti claimed goaded Leodoro to commit the shooting.
Monti was walking through a high school courtyard around 7:30 a.m. with his arms around two girls — “all laughing and having fun,” he said — when he heard a loud crack.
“I felt a hot pressure, like a hot poker being jabbed intomy body,” Monti said.
Leodoro paused before firing the next three shots in quick succession. Monti said he fell to the concrete and sawthe students around him begin screaming and running.
“When I did get shot I looked off to the side at the clouds and at the trees. And I said, ‘God, I’m too young. I don’t want to die,’ ” Monti recalled.
He woke up in Mercy Medical Center with tubes down his throat. The bullets hit him below his right shoulder blade, at the base of his spine, in his buttocks and in his left forearm.
He was in surgery for 15 hours while doctors reconstructed his intestines, his mother said. When he woke up, he moaned, “Why me, Mom? Why me?”
After the shooting, Leodoro ran off campus. He was quickly surrounded by police in the parking lot of a nearby barbecue joint. He placed the pistol to his head and threatened to commit suicide, but police persuaded him to surrender. He later expressed regret to detectives.
“I screwed up,” Leodoro said in a recorded interview shown at his trial in juvenile court. “I shouldn’t have done it.”
Monti said he still doesn’t know why Leodoro shot him.
“He had no reason,” Monti said, though assumes Leodoro thought “maybe if he took me out of the picture, he could have a girlfriend.”
Leodoro told Roseburg police detectives that girls were infatuated with Monti, according to news accounts of the court proceedings. “Every time they see Joe, they follow him,” Leodoro told police at the time. “When he’s there, we’re like nothing.”
Police said Leodoro obtained the 10mm handgun from his home and that it was owned by his stepfather. In court documents, Leodoro’s family denied owning the gun. In any case, Leodoro was ordered to be detained by the Oregon Youth Authority until his 25th birthday, in 2016.
Monti recovered from his wounds, but emotionally, he was devastated. He dropped out of school because he longer felt safe on school grounds, and he never graduated.
As an unskilled worker with no high school diploma or GED, Monti’s options were limited. He tried working on a tree farm and shuttling acetylene bottles on dollies for a welding company, but the hard labor hurt his back. He considered school but said the emotional toll of the shooting has kept him from furthering his education.
Now, he is seeking disability payments from Social Security, but his lawyers say his claim has yet to be approved.
“I’m trying to get jobs . . . but I’m getting looked at like I’m a crippled nobody,” Monti said. “I’m not getting the fair run. I’m getting no run.”
Monti’s family had no medical insurance at the time of the shooting, and his bills amounted to more than $145,000. Eventually, the hospital wrote off much of the debt as uncollectible, his mother said.
In 2008, Monti filed a lawsuit against Leodoro, his family, his alleged accomplice and Roseburg schools to cover medical expenses, lost wages and to compensate for his pain. The case was settled two years later, when Leodoro and the alleged accomplice were ordered to pay Monti more than $598,000.
Monti’s lawyer in that case, Dennis Black, said Monti received only a small fraction of the award because the boys had no money.
“If the shooter and his accomplice win the lottery,” Black said, “then Joseph could collect.”
Monti estimates that he has received about $3,500 from the settlement, which he has used to pay for repairs to his dilapidated Acura Integra. Otherwise, his sole monthly income is $200 in food stamps and a $50 check from Leodoro for restitution.
Leodoro is able to write those checks because he does have a job. After serving just five years in juvenile prison, he was released in 2011. He now lives in a quaint seaside village about 95 miles north of Roseburg with his wife and a new baby.
The manager of a nearby Safeway said Leodoro works there at night. He also serves as a volunteer firefighter. Colleagues said he eagerly learns new skills so he can save lives.
Being a firefighter is “a way for meto give back,” Leodoro said in a brief interview. He declined to discuss the recent massacre at Umpqua Community College — or the day he shot his friend in the back.
Leodoro said he has been “laying low” since he got out of juvenile detention.
“I’ve changed,” he said. “Back then I was young and dumb and not thinking right.”
Monti said he hasn’t tried to talk to Leodoro since his release. But it’s not because he’s angry.
“I don’t hate him,” Monti said, his eyes growing misty. “But I don’t think he understands the full consequences and outcomes of what he’s done.”
“It’s almost like someone in my own family died.”
Joseph Monti, victim of an earlier school shooting in Oregon, on how he was affected by the gun deaths at Umpqua Community College.
JosephMonti is comforted by his half brother Eric Allison in an Oregon hospital in February 2006 after he was shot four times by a classmate. Monti walks with a limp and still deals with the emotional fallout.
In a recent selfie, Monti smiles and flashes a peace sign.