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Sniper shooting survivor savors life

October 7, 2012 12:10 am

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Caroline Seawell has fully recovered from the 2002 sniper attack in Spotsylvania and lives in South Carolina. lo100712seawell3.jpg

Police examine a bullet hole in Caroline Seawell's van after the shooting outside the Michaels craft store near the Spotsylvania Mall in 2002.

By PAMELA GOULD

Caroline Seawell has scars front and back from the sniper's bullet that ripped through her chest.

But she hasn't let her brush with death define her.

She doesn't dwell on what happened--or could have happened--10 years ago this month.

Instead, the former Spotsylvania County resident calls herself "one of the lucky ones."

She knows that 10 of 13 people shot over a three-week stretch in October 2002 didn't survive the onslaught of a pair who came to be known as the Beltway Snipers.

Nor did some who were victims of a cross-country crime spree that preceded the lethal pair's arrival in the nation's capital.

Seawell appeared on a cable television program with the survivor of an Alabama shooting who has endured 20 surgeries to her face after being the victim of an armed robbery.

She also knows about the physical ordeal suffered by the youngest victim--then-13-year-old Iran Brown--who was walking into his Bowie, Md., middle school when a sniper's bullet struck him.

He had life-saving surgery that removed his spleen and parts of his liver and pancreas.

Seawell, by contrast, didn't initially undergo surgery after she was shot on Oct. 4, 2002, by the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle wielded by 41-year-old John Allen Muhammad and 17-year-old Lee Boyd Malvo.

The bullet that tore through her body hit her liver, a lung and diaphragm and cracked multiple ribs before exiting.

She spent four days in the hospital with a chest tube to help her breathe. She had surgery a month later to insert a piece of mesh to cover a hole in her diaphragm.

By then, her body had mostly healed, she said.

Apart from some deformed ribs, she has no lasting physical effects from the shooting.

But she knows it could have been worse.

"I think the doctors said another half-inch to the left it would have come close to my heart or a major artery, which would have been detrimental," she said.

"I try not to think about it."

9/11 bigger anniversary

Seawell immediately knew she'd been shot.

She told that to the first person who rushed to her aid in the parking lot of Michaels crafts store in front of what was then Spotsylvania Mall.

Her instant reaction was prayer--asking that she survive to raise her two boys.

"My second thought was this must have been a copy-cat killer," she said.

Seawell, then 43, and her husband, Dave, had heard about the five deadly shootings in less than two hours the day before in D.C. and Montgomery County, Md.

"I had been watching the news and, of course, we never dreamed he'd come down that far," she said.

"We weren't even worried about it, truthfully."

She never thought harm would come to her. It had always been her husband who was in the high-risk situations.

He had been a police officer. He had flown combat missions in the Gulf War while serving in the Air National Guard. He was a commercial pilot for American Airlines.

He knew the pilot killed on American Airlines Flight 77 when it was hijacked on Sept. 11 and flown into the Pentagon.

That event's 10-year anniversary weighed far more heavily on her mind than this one.

"I guess because the devastation was so great of 9/11," Seawell said.

MOVING ON LOW-KEY

The Seawells moved from Spotsylvania County to Caroline's hometown of Columbia, S.C., in 2005.

She was a stay-at-home mom in 2002, but eventually began working outside the home.

When Muhammad was executed in Virginia in November 2009, co-workers learned she had been one of the sniper victims.

The next year, her younger son learned about it.

Older son Sean was a 17-year-old senior at Spotsylvania High School at the time of the shootings and remembers the ordeal.

Younger son Ryan, now 14, was just 3. He was dealing with an ongoing medical problem at the time and was at preschool when his mother was shot.

Ryan found out about it when producers of a 2010 cable program hosted by William Shatner of "Star Trek" fame called to ask her to participate in a segment about the sniper shootings.

Ryan peppered her with questions then. But, according to his mother, the then-12-year-old was more interested in the benefits of her participation in the TV program.

"He was more excited about going to California than me being shot," she said lightheartedly.

'SAVED FOR A REASON'

Caroline Seawell, now 53, feels fine and rarely thinks about her near-death experience, but that doesn't mean it didn't have a long-term impact.

"It makes me take things a little lighter than I might have before," she said. "I don't take the little things that bother me as seriously any more.

"You just are thankful for every day that you have. You realize there are a lot of things that are not that important."

She's thankful that her prayer was answered and her life was spared.

"I know God saved me for a reason through that whole thing," she said.

And that reason revolves around family, she said.

The Seawells moved back to South Carolina so she could care for her mother for eight months before cancer took her life.

Two years later, Seawell was there for her father when he was stricken with cancer and later died.

She's also had time with her four siblings, who all live in Columbia.

And she's gotten the chance to raise her sons and be with her husband.

Ryan's health issue is now successfully managed and he's a high school freshman.

Sean moved back to Spotsylvania and now has a career with Stafford County Fire and Rescue.

He's also married to Mandy Schultz Seawell, a Chancellor High School graduate, and the two have a 15-month-old son, Benson.

Being a grandmother is a joy incomparable, Caroline Seawell said.

"Life is wonderful."

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
Email: pgould@freelancestar.com





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