KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Tiana Carruthers still doesn’t consider herself a hero. She was the brave young mother who used her body to shield several children, one of them her own, from rapid gunfire during the Kalamazoo shooting spree in February. And yet, she just smiles and shakes her head when the word hero comes up.
“Everyone is a hero. I honestly believe that,” said Carruthers smiling. “Just people who are randomly, who open the door for you when you’re going to the grocery store. Just random things. People who look out for your children.”
It’s been over two months since the shootings occurred and three weeks since she first spoke publicly, and emotionally, about them. She told a packed room of reporters, doctors, nurses and loved ones that her road to recovery has been long. And it still is, Carruthers said. But she’s choosing to look on the brighter side of life.
“When I wake up in the morning, I’m just like, I’m thanking God that I’m up,” said Carruthers. “I’m taking my life in a different direction every single day. I'm telling my family that. They’re kind of like ‘This is a new Tiana for us you know.’ But they have to understand that I went through an experience and I’m still going though an experience.”
Carruthers said her journey so far has been full of ups and downs, both physically and emotionally. She currently walks with a cane and keeps her left arm in a sling to help it heal. She hopes to one day have full range motion in that arm.
“I’m not living my life and thinking about the person who did this to me,” said Carruthers matter-of-factly. “I’m focused on something completely different because if I don’t, I will lose myself. I will lose myself and I’m not dwelling on that at all.”
Carruthers credits her daughter and family for getting her through hard times. She said this experience makes her “hug her daughter harder.” She says "I love you" to her family more often. She does this keeping in mind the other families affected by the shootings.
“I would love to meet them,” said Carrruthers. “I'm thinking about them. I feel for them, you know what I mean. I honestly truly with all my heart, I feel for them. I really look at this as, even though I haven’t spoken with them, I still feel like we’re connected.”
Six people were shot and killed on that tragic night at different locations throughout the Kalamazoo area. Only two people survived: Carruthers and 14-year-old Abigail Kopf who’s recovering at home in Battle Creek.
Carruthers, like Abbie, is trying to return to normal, day-to-day life. The smallest acts of shopping at the grocery store or receiving mentorship with friends at Youth For Christ — a place she’s gone to for years — is all done with extra meaning. Their support, including the community's, has kept her moving forward she said.
“They make me stronger,” said Carruthers while wearing a ’Stop the Violence’ T-shirt that was designed and worn by teenagers who hosted a benefit concert in her honor. “The outpouring of love is amazing. I feel like I say it all the time. I feel like I can never get enough of saying thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you ‘cause I’m always saying that. And it gets me through.”