Teen moves forward after Cape Fear High shooting
Posted April 8, 2013
Fayetteville, N.C. — Eighteen months after she was shot at Cape Fear High School, Catilyn Abercrombie says she hopes to return to school next fall for her senior year.
Returning to class would mark the latest step in her recovery from the Oct. 24, 2011, shooting that left a bullet fragment lodged in the 17-year-old's spine.
“I love Cape Fear. Cape Fear has been my school," Abercrombie said recently during an exclusive interview with WRAL News. "One thing can happen, and it was just one mishap – one person made one bad choice. That doesn’t determine the fate of one entire school.”
That mishap was a .22-caliber rifle bullet that struck Abercrombie in the neck as she was talking to her friends in a breezeway at school after lunch.
"It was weird because I was falling slow motion, and it was, like, 'Why isn't anybody helping?' and I was, like, I can't get back up, and I just lay there," she said.
She said she didn't feel any pain.
"I was just grabbing for my neck – I don't know why – because I looked at my hand, and I saw that there was blood," she said. "I was trying to call for help, but I could hear myself, and I could hear that nobody could hear me, really, and my voice was breaking up."
Health teacher Julee Cook, Abercrombie's favorite teacher, suddenly appeared and tried to comfort her.
"I just saw her over me, and she was, like, 'Don't worry. I got you,'" she said. "She just started smiling at me, and I blacked out again."
Brenda Abercrombie said she began praying when Cape Fear High officials called her about "an incident" at the school. By the time she arrived at school, she said she was sure her daughter was dead.
"When I looked at my child, I saw no life in her eyes," she said. "Her lips were blue, and I thought she was gone."
Yet, she said, she sensed something else in the chaotic scene as paramedics tried to revive her daughter.
"I knew she was just surrounded by angels," she said. "There was just a light around her, and when I touched her, there was just such a peace that came over me.”
Catilyn Abercrombie spent the next two months at Duke University Hospital.
“Her lungs collapsed. Her kidneys went into renal failure. She had blood clots,” her mother said. “You name it, she had it.”
Brenda Abercrombie said she continued to pray throughout the ordeal.
“I spent a lot of time on my knees," she said. "I said, 'Lord, I need you more.' I prayed and prayed and prayed – a lot of tears and a lot of prayers.”
Many others also offered prayers and support, she said, adding that she's eternally grateful.
“People touched me and reached out to me that I had never seen," she said. "Pastors would stop me in the elevator. 'Are you Catilyn’s mom?'"
Catilyn Abercrombie underwent six operations and countless trips back to Duke. She still returns every two to three months for follow-up care.
It was a trip to the Cumberland County Courthouse in February, however, that required as much strength to get through as any operation.
Fellow Cape Fear High student Charles Underwood, 17, pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder and other charges in the school shooting and was sentenced to 12 to 15 years in prison.
Underwood had targeted another student, and he asked Catilyn Abercrombie for forgiveness. She immediately obliged.
"I've just let all of it out, and now I'm free of thinking about it," she told WRAL News. "It was hard, but I was relieved to do it. It has made so much impact. It has helped me."
She said she wants Underwood to be able to start anew one day.
"I don't want him to be locked up forever," she said. "It's not fair for me to have my own life and have him stuck in there. Yes, he made a bad choice, but people make bad choices all the time."
Brenda Abercrombie said she also has forgiven Underwood and co-defendant Ta'Von McLaurin, 20, whose case is still pending.
"We hope that they turn their lives around, and we’d like to see them become God-loving, productive young men," she said.
Catilyn Abercrombie said she also wants a new life where she can put the shooting behind her. She tried to return to Cape Fear High once, but post-traumatic stress forced her back home, where she has been home-schooled.
"I had to leave because it was just too much," she said. "My tolerance of people is not there anymore."
She said she still thinks of herself as an outgoing person, and missing two years with her classmates has hurt. Her mother needs to be convinced that she's ready to return and that she will be safe at school, but Catilyn Abercrombie said she has no qualms about it.
"Why determine that this has to be a bad school? Or it's going to happen again? Or anything like that?" she asked. "I shouldn't be scared. So, I can stand here, stand there, stand anywhere. This shouldn't be marked as a bad spot."