Kalamazoo Strong: Local hero, survivor determined to inspire others

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Tiana Carruthers refuses to be the victim, she said. She spent most of this month keeping herself so busy that she wouldn’t have to time to think about February 20. But eventually she did.

“It’s more than a date for me,” said Carruthers during a recent interview. “I feel like it’s my re-birth date.”

Two years ago Tuesday, Carruthers was the first victim of the Kalamazoo Shootings. According the Sheriff’s Office, she was returning home from spending the afternoon at a nearby park with her daughter and other children when she was shot by a man near her home. She told the kids to run away while using her body to shield them from the gunfire.

“My body, its scarred, its scarred for life,” she said. “I still have metal that’s in my body that has quiet a few aches and pains. When it’s raining, it’s snowing it’s cold, I'm like uhhh my body wants to shut down completely.”

However Carruthers won’t allow it she said. Over the last two years, she’s pushed herself body, enduring rounds and rounds of physical therapy. Her emotions have been another challenge. She battles survivors remorse and  said it’s sometimes hard to be with around the victim's families because they’ve lost loved ones.

“It’s heavy,” said Carruthers. “I’ve never spoken about it before. And it’s hard. That's why I tell myself like families have been broken and they’re no longer here. And that’s why I refuse to lay around and mope.”

Carruthers credits her faith in God for getting her though the hard times, which includes losing her half-brother to gun violence in September 2016. The community rallied around her and their support she's appreciated as well.

“Sometimes when we go to the grocery store like Meijers or something to get food and a lot of people say ‘that's Tiana’,” said her 9-year-old daughter Kaniya. “Then they come up to her and hug her and then my mom starts crying ‘cause it’s a blessing.”

Kaniya said she loves her mother. Carruthers, in turn, feels it. The kids, whom she protected that day, often call her to check-in on her and tell her that they love her.

“They’re humble and they’re forever forgiving,” said Carruthers. “They always forgive me. That’s one thing always like ‘I love you Tiana for saving my life.’  And it’s one of the best rewards.”

Carruthers is now on a mission to spread a message of love. She’s created a motivational speaking business and has already spoken at a few schools and organizations locally. Her dream though is to do is nationally to help as many people as possible.

“Just a simple “hi” and a hug and “how are you really doing, I feel like those things are big,” said Carruthers. “They’re small but they’re big ‘cause you never know who’s hurting and who really needs love."

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