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Shooting survivor works to help domestic violence victims

Posted October 17, 2008
Updated October 18, 2008

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— Nearly a year after being shot in the head and back, Azucena Del Rio said she can still remember the "fire" that came from the gun she said her estranged husband used.

“He pointed at me – like my forehead – and at that minute, it is like the whole world just kinda stopped spinning around,” Del Rio said of the Nov. 10, 2007 incident.

Joaquin Rangel Ramirez, 32, was supposed to drop off the couple’s two young daughters, at Betsy Johnson Regional Hospital, where his wife worked as a translator, that night. Instead, he approached Del Rio, 29, in an employee parking lot and shot her several times, Dunn police said.

Del Rio said the first bullet hit her in the head. When she ran back to the hospital for help, she was hit in the back by two more shots,  causing her lungs to collapse.

“You could just see the fire coming from the gun,” Del Rio said.

Ramirez remains at large, and Del Rio said she still fears he might come back.

The shooting took place shortly after Del Rio decided to leave her husband.

Del Rio, a mother of three children, said it was not the first time her husband had been violent to her. In their 10-year marriage, Del Rio said Ramirez had been abusive for six years.

“It started with the slapping in the face, pulling hair, pushing around,” Del Rio said. The violence soon escalated to a punch in the face, she said.

Prior to the shooting, Del Rio filed for a protective order against her husband. Following the shooting, that order was extended.

In the past year, Del Rio has recovered but continues to suffer from pain. A bullet remains lodged in her head.

Del Rio has dedicated herself to educating others about the dangers of domestic violence. She has volunteered as a translator for local domestic violence shelters and started studying to become a nurse.

On Friday, Del Rio was honored by Peace at Work, a North Carolina-based group created to prevent domestic violence in the workplace. In a ceremony at Anderson Point Park in Raleigh, she was given the Peace Worker award and the Workplace Compensation Award, which will help pay her medical bills.

“I cannot believe her resilience, her courage,” Peace at Work founder Johnny Lee said.

Del Rio said the fear of almost losing her life has helped her to appreciate it even more.

“It is crazy, but those three bullets – they were the keys to my freedom,” Del Rio said.

Anyone with information on the whereabouts of Ramirez is asked to call the Dunn Police Department at 910-892-2399 or 910-892-2345.

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