Wounded: Stop the Violence

Gun violence survivors reflect on shootings' impacts
May 31, 2009 (CHICAGO) Two years ago, ABC7 Chicago aired its first half-hour special report, bringing together city and community leaders to examine the ongoing conflicts and efforts to find resolutions. Now, we kick off another series of reports looking at what programs are working and where more help is needed.

The family had recently moved from the Englewood neighborhood to the Washington Heights area -- where they thought they would find safety.

"It's just really phenomenal to me that we haven't figured out how we can keep our children safe. It's not just my child; it's all the children that are living in danger because they don't have anything else to do," Ian's mother Denise Dixon said.

As was typical, Ian Dixon and his dad were hanging out one evening in their "man space," the garage, when a quick bike ride to the corner -- just four houses away -- turned the 17-year-old Kenwood High School student into a statistic: one of more than 500 Chicago students who survived being shot in the past 18 months.

"As I was coming back, I saw this car coming out the alley. I didn't know who the car was so I thought it was just somebody coming out of their garage or something coming out the alley. So, I was riding past, and he just pulled his gun out and shoots me," Ian Dixon said.

His dad's quick thinking and military training may be what saved his life.

"When I saw the blood pumping from his arm as he approached me, I knew they had to have hit an artery. So, my first instinct was I pulled my belt off, and I wrapped it around it and put a tourniquet. I wrapped one below it and above it, and I told them to call for the paramedics," Robert Dixon said.

"It entered here and then it came back out here," Ian Dixon said of his wound.

After surgery to repair a ruptured artery and months of physical therapy, the teen now has full use of his hand, but he is permanently scarred.

"It was hard because every sound I heard, I was real terrified of it. Like, I wouldn't go out to the garage for a long time. I wouldn't go out there," Ian Dixon said.

Bullets to his chest and neck left a permanent impact on Miguel Perez, 26, as well. He admits he was part of the problem. He was shot by a member of his own gang after a drug deal went bad. He was 19 years old then and has since been confined to a wheelchair.

"I know I done a lot of messed up stuff in my life that I'm not proud of, and I know I deserve to be dead, but I know that I'm here for a reason. God spared my life for a reason. That's my testimony, to share my everyday life in this chair," Perez said.

The one-time high school drop out is now working with a group called Youth Empowered to Succeed, a division of the SER (Service Employment and Redevelopment) program. It helps troubled teens finish school, quit gangs and find jobs.

Perez says it's the kind of resource and safe haven he needed growing up in Pilsen.

"I was in the city but like trapped on an island because the neighborhood that I come from, all around me was different gangs that if I crossed into that territory, they'll kill me. So, it was like I was on an island and I lacked resources," Perez said.

Perez regularly speaks at public events to share the gritty details of his story. He says it's all in hopes of keeping kids from living his regrets.

"I gave my life for this gang. I was willing to die for it and that lifestyle, and I didn't die. I got paralyzed, but it wasn't worth it. I'd rather be walking," Perez said.

The Dixon family is disappointed that no arrest has been made in the shooting of their son. Miguel Perez says his shooter is serving time on unrelated drug charges.

The organization, Youth Empowered to Succeed, offers all of its services, including GED classes and job placement assistance, for free. The group is funded by a grant from the US Department of Labor.

For more information, please visit www.centralstatesser.org

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