In a sense, Jasson Hines really did kill Tracy Armstrong.
Armstrong is still alive. He's living in Panguitch, confined to a wheelchair. Hines is now heading to the Utah State Prison to serve up to life in prison for attempted murder.
But in a sense, Armstrong says, he was killed that night at Panguitch Lake.
"Because he killed the old me. The Tracy Armstrong everybody knew," Armstrong said in an interview Friday with the Deseret Morning News. "He really has taken what used to be Tracy Armstrong, and I have to go and re-create Tracy Armstrong. Now I'm Tracy Armstrong who has to go and learn how to do things as a paraplegic."
Hines pleaded guilty on Friday and was sentenced to four years to life in prison for the bizarre shooting that paralyzed Armstrong. In August, Hines walked up to Armstrong at the Blue Springs Lodge and opened fire, shooting him several times at point-blank range with a handgun. The two didn't know each other: Armstrong managed the cabins there, and Hines was supposed to be vacationing.
After shooting Armstrong in the chest, neck and shoulder, Hines also shot at Armstrong's son and then ran to a nearby campground and tried to grab a child, police said. Authorities said it took three Garfield County sheriff's deputies and a Utah Highway Patrol trooper to subdue Hines, who fought with them as he was being arrested.
"The only explanation is that he had a devil or something in him," Armstrong said Friday. "Because nothing explains why he would come there. When he shot me he yelled, 'I'm God and you're dead.' He also claimed to be God as he stood over taunting me."
Since that night, Armstrong has had to rebuild his life, a slow and painful process. The father of nine told the judge presiding over Hines' case that he'll never be able to kick a football with his sons or dance at any of his daughters' weddings. His career as a real-estate agent is severely limited, he said, because how can you show properties to prospective buyers in a wheelchair?
"I actually had my 9-year-old boy ask me how we were going to go on father-and-son outings now because this happened," Armstrong said, his voice choking on tears. "There's a lot of family traditions and a lot of things that are important to my children that have been taken."
Armstrong's life has been filled with a mixture of pain, rehabilitation and happy moments with his family, all of which has been documented by his wife on a blog she keeps.
"We went to the doctor today," Lynn Armstrong wrote in a recent entry. "Tracy's toes were infected, and so the doctor decided to cut the nails back a ways on both sides. OUCH. Glad he couldn't feel that!"
The blog was started five months ago by a family friend as a way to keep everyone updated on Tracy's recovery. Lynn soon took it over and began documenting their new life, making entries almost daily.
"It's kind of been therapeutic, I guess," she said.
Lynn Armstrong said she has received e-mails, comments and well wishes from many people expressing their sympathy and support. At times, she thinks she'll give up on the blog. It's then that she gets an e-mail from someone who has been touched by their story.
"I think it just shows that there's good, kind people out there. The world isn't just going to pot," Lynn said. "It's really made us feel a lot better."
The community has also rallied around the Armstrong family. They've delivered dinners. A woman donated a handicapped-accessible van. His employers at ERA Realty have pitched in to help. A fund has been set up for the family at Zions Bank to pay medical bills.
"We're just really blessed to have such a nice extended family," said Armstrong.
He said he is also blessed to have his wife, who "means the world to me."
"Very rarely have we been apart from each other since I was shot. We still like each other. Can you believe that?" he chuckled.
At times, the pain he suffers is excruciating. He describes nerve pain that starts in his hand and creeps up his right arm.
"It gets so unbearable, I just start crying out to my wife. It's the most unbelievable pain you can imagine," he said.
What he has gone through is something that Armstrong said he would never wish on anyone including Jasson Hines. One of the bullets is still inside him, right up against his spinal cord.
Garfield County Attorney Barry Huntington said Hines' conviction spares them a trial and ensures a maximum sentence allowed by law, but he could be paroled in 30 years.
"I am hopeful this conviction will help in some small way to allow the Armstrong family the ability to continue in the healing process," Huntington said.
Armstrong said he hopes Hines remains behind bars for life."There's no way to repay. There's no way to make restitution. There's no way to heal my body," he said. "He's going to have to pay in the hereafter."
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