Trolley Square shooting victim has empathy for Aurora survivors

Published: Sunday, Aug. 5 2012 5:15 p.m. MDT

Carolyn Tuft, center, looks up at her daughter Kait Hinckley as the leave 3rd District Court Feb. 14, 2011. Both were shot in Trolley Square in 2007. Carolyn Tuft says the shooting continues to affect all aspects of her life. She has great empathy for the victims of the recent theater shooting in Colorado.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Carolyn Tuft says the survivors of last month’s shooting in Aurora, Colo., will never be the same. She knows this because she’s a survivor of the Trolley Square shooting.

On Feb. 12, 2007, Sulejman Talovic, 18, shot and killed five people at Trolley Square and wounded four others before being shot and killed by police.

Tuft and her 15-year-old daughter, Kirsten Hinckley, were both shot by Talovic while shopping at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City. Kirsten was killed.

Tuft said life has been tough emotionally, physically and financially. “It’s affected every facet of your life,” she said. “People think we heal and move on, and we do to some extent, but it changes you.”

Losing her daughter “hurts to the very core,” she said.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it (the shooting) and my daughter,” she said. “Emotionally, losing her and watching him kill her is in my brain all the time.”

She said her daughter should be enjoying life with her brothers and sister, and she isn’t. Hinckley is missing out on so many important things.

“It’s like a broken heart that I carry around all the time, and it just feels like a heavy broken heart,” she said. “I keep thinking it’s going away, but it actually gets worse.”

Physically, she’s in a lot of pain. “It’s pain that wakes me up in the morning.”

Tuft still suffers from the injuries Talovic inflicted when he pressed the gun to her back and fired. The pellets left throughout her body, in internal organs and around her spine, continue to cause lead poisoning.

“They (the pellets) are imbedded in my kidneys, and it would be impossible to dig all of them out. The ones in my arms you can see them and feel them. I need to get those removed again, but I can’t afford another surgery.”

She has nerve damage, which makes it hard for her to walk and use her arms. She’s unable to afford the medication she needs to treat the lead poisoning because she is unable to work and has no health insurance.

The bills keep mounting because Tuft has to have regular doctor visits and testing to check her lead levels.

Before the shooting, she said she had perfect credit. She had her own business, but she lost it because she wasn’t able to work because of the injuries. Her credit is now ruined.

While the hospital wrote off some bills and donations helped, it didn’t come close to covering her medical and living expenses, Tuft said. The bills keep coming and she now owes about $12,000.

“It isn’t anything that I’ve done to cause this, that’s the hard part,” she said. “I tried to be responsible and pay my bills, and I didn’t cause this, but I’m going to be paying for it for the rest of my life.”

She said some of the victims of the Aurora shooting will probably go through what she has over the years. James Holmes, 24, is accused of killing 12 people and injuring 58 on July 20 at the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

“I’m a single mom,” Tuft said. "I didn’t have anything to fall back on. I didn’t have the husband at home that was bringing in an income.”

Many of the Colorado victims will have ongoing medical bills for the rest of their life, she said. The Colorado woman who lost her 6-year-old daughter in the Aurora theater shooting and suffered a miscarriage is expected to be paralyzed as a result of her injuries.

“I’m heart-broken for her because I know what she’s going to have to face,” Tuft said on the verge of tears. “It’s so sad.”

She said she would talk to the Aurora victims to help them understand their pain, if they want.

Even though life has been tough, her children give her strength.

“I have three other kids who I adore. We are close. That’s what kept me. They need their mom still.”

E-mail: vvo-duc@ksl.com, psamore@ksl.com

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