NIU shooting victim heads home, bullet lodged in chest

By Carla K. Johnson

CHICAGO -The last Northern Illinois University student to be released from the hospital following the deadly shooting rampage in a campus lecture hall prepared to head home Tuesday with a bullet still lodged near her heart.

Lauren Debrauwere should make a full recovery, said Northwestern Memorial Hospital heart surgeon Dr. Patrick McCarthy.

But the 19-year-old NIU sophomore will require further surgery to fix a leaky heart valve damaged by the blast, McCarthy said. The bullet, which came within centimeters of her heart, will remain.

“She has a tough road ahead of her, but we are humbled and very grateful we have her with us today as she’s a miracle to us,” Debrauwere’s sister, Brittany Debrauwere, 23, told reporters at the hospital Tuesday. Lauren Debrauwere did not attend the news conference.

Debrauwere’s planned release comes 12 days after gunman Steve Kazmierczak opened fire on a Cole Hall auditorium – killing five students and wounding at least 16 – before committing suicide.

Her recovery has at times been “unbearable for her both mentally and physically,” Brittany Debrauwere said, reading a statement on behalf of the family.

Lauren Debrauwere was sitting near the front of Cole Hall, and told her parents the gunman fired a handgun at her boyfriend, Dan Parmenter, then shot her twice – once in the hip and again in the abdomen – then shot a girl sitting next to her. Parmenter died.

One bullet entered Debrauwere’s abdomen, hit her liver and colon and ended its path lodged in her left chest.

“The bullet did something very unusual in that it went right next to the heart and because of the blast injury it damaged part of the heart muscle that controls one of the heart valves,” McCarthy said.

The family thanked Dr. Stephen Goldman, who performed the surgery at Kishwaukee Community Hospital that stabilized Lauren, and the Air Angels paramedic flight crew who cared for her as she was flown to Northwestern in Chicago.

“She’s strong. She said she’s ready to go back to school,” the teenager’s father, Mark Debrauwere, told The Associated Press by phone.

He hasn’t discussed with his daughter how she feels about the bullet remaining in her chest, he said.

“She’s been feeling better and getting online and reading some of the articles” about the shooting, he said. She is a communications major and one of her greatest hopes now is to graduate with her peers, he said.

“Her teachers said they would do whatever she wanted from them.”