"It was idyllic. It was Fiji," she says, running her hand along the kitchen counter, an unconscious effort to smooth things out or maybe to keep the memories at bay. "No clocks, no locks, no phones."

It was a wonderful trip; the two relaxed, dove, and began to make solid wedding plans. And then it was time to go home.

Longdon recalls a custom in Fiji — as visitors leave the island they are given flowers to throw in the water. If your flower drifts out to sea, you aren't coming back. If it returns to you, you will return to Fiji.

Longdon and Rueckert shared a flower, standing together and throwing it into the water together.

The flower sank.


Back home, Longdon was jet-lagged and preoccupied with luggage — her scuba gear was missing. She saw her son as soon as she could, and broke the news that she was getting married.

Suddenly, it was Monday morning. She and Rueckert weren't back 36 hours, but they each worked a full day, then got into his red truck to go home. Longdon knew the refrigerator was empty, so she offered a choice: grocery shop for salad ingredients or split a carnitas torta from a drive-thru.

That's how Longdon and Rueckert ended up at the Filiberto's at 32nd Street and Shea Boulevard at 9 p.m. on November 15, 2004.

She shivers, pulling a sweatshirt around her shoulders, and keeps going.

"We pull in. It was a beautiful night — the kind of night that we live here for."

The two were holding hands, talking about the wedding. Just as they turned in, he said something funny — she doesn't remember what — and she laughed then sighed.

Then she heard a screech. "Another truck sideswiped us."

Rueckert parked.

The shots began. Some trauma patients black out, but Londgon says she has a memory of the entire incident, start to finish.

"David's window . . . just spiderwebbed. It shattered. I remember watching that pattern in slow motion. It was beautiful."

In a quiet voice, Rueckert said, "Get down."

She was confused. He threw himself over her.

"Someone was firing, and it was loud. God, it was loud."

She grabbed her cellphone and tried to call 911, but she couldn't get a signal at first.

At her feet in a cooler: Rueckert's .45-caliber Glock, which he'd stored at the office while he was out of town.

"David was well-versed in how to use that gun," she says. And he did reach over and flip the lid on the cooler, she recalls, and reached for the gun.

"And then he didn't." She doesn't know why.

Londgon remembers three shots — then it stopped. They both sat up, and he put the car in gear. The shots started again.

With the last one, "I felt this burning," she says.

"David had been speaking to me. Then all of the sudden his words just melted."

He'd been shot several times, including in the brain. And his foot was still on the gas.

"I saw a palm tree coming at us."

The airbag deployed. Longdon was hot. She couldn't breathe. She opened the truck door and gulped in cold air, then froze as Rueckert's door opened.

"I just knew that there was going to be a bullet in my brain."

Instead, a man told her he was an off-duty paramedic.

The bullet had traveled through the body of the truck and into the seat, stopping inside Longdon's body.

"Tell my son I love him," she told the EMTs, dry-eyed as she tells the story. They took Rueckert first ('til then, she'd figured he was dead), and suddenly she was on a gurney going backward.

"Am I being medevaced?" she asked, feeling a spotlight on her face.

"No," someone said. "It's the news vultures."


Longdon couldn't breathe. She kept trying to tell the doctors that her reg (short for "regulator" — a scuba term for the device you breathe through underwater) was blocked. There was blood everywhere. The hospital chaplain came.

She wasn't supposed to survive.

She'd lost so much blood, they couldn't give her anything for the pain. She passed out.

She recalls waking up on her side in a hospital room with her back to the door — and to a doctor, who told her she had a spinal-cord injury and would never walk again.

Longdon has sympathy for that doctor. "Doctors are human beings, too," she says, adding that breaking news like that couldn't be "fun or easy." In a lot of ways, that moment defined her experience.

"No sugarcoating. It's kind of me. It's kind of how this thing has been all along."

And that, she says, is spinal-cord injury.

"When it comes down to it, I'm paralyzed — that's what today's going to be."

The news about her fiancé wasn't great, either.

Rueckert had been shot in the brain, wrist, and shoulder. He was in a medically induced coma in another hospital. Longdon's ex and her son were allowed to visit, but for the most part, she was anonymous — the police were investigating, the reporters were hovering, and the authorities wanted to ensure Longdon's safety.

« Previous Page
 |
 
1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
5 comments
Pat Elliott
Pat Elliott

Fantastic. We need to see more stories like this and hear from more journalists like Amy Silverman who can tackle difficult topics with sensitivity and accuracy.

Saracat
Saracat

Jen is one of the most incredible people I have ever met. Her courage and compassion are an inspiration and her sense of humor is hilarious

stefnj2000
stefnj2000

Jennifer is the epitome of strength and resilience. She is an inspiration to many and a true voice for wheelchair users, those with spinal cord injuries and others.

This article takes us into her life in the most intimate of ways. She allows us to know what her struggles are and that they don't stop her from countless hours volunteering and committees. I am proud to be a Phoenician with Jennifer Longdon.

kennedymsw
kennedymsw

Wonderful article and a great spokesperson and advocate for so many people and causes.  I hope Jennifer does run for office she needs a larger platform than facebook. 

donnagratehouse
donnagratehouse

Jennifer Longdon is the coolest person ever. I'm honored to know her. 

Great piece, Amy. One of your best. 

 

Around The Web

Loading...