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

The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY T. REES SHAPIRO t.shapiro@wash­post.com — As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

COUR­TESY OF THE AL­LI­SON-MONTI FAM­ILY

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.

JOSEPH MONTI

In a re­cent selfie, Monti smiles and flashes a peace sign.

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