PANGUITCH, Garfield County — It was getting late, close to 9 p.m. the summer night of Aug. 3, 2007, at Panguitch Lake.
Tracy Armstrong, owner of the Blue Springs Lodge, was checking in his last reservation — a large family of eight from Las Vegas. As Armstrong sat in his office chair going over specifics and working the credit card machine, the family's 24-year-old son, Jason Dylan Hines, barreled into the lodge office and shot Armstrong three times.
"I saw the fire come out of the gun," Armstrong says. He then felt a burning in his body like he'd never felt before.
"I'm God and you're dead!" Hines screamed at Armstrong.
Armstrong didn't know the family, let alone the young man. But he wondered, even said under his breath in those split seconds, "Why have you shot me? Why have you killed me?"
Now nearly two years later, Armstrong bawls as he remembers that day and is nearly hyperventilating as his tears are wiped away with a folded paper towel. He stops, takes a sip of water from a straw in a large plastic cup.
"I'm sorry," he says. "I get emotional telling this."
And although Armstrong's a paraplegic bound to a wheelchair and 100 percent dependent on others, he has a message to tell: "Get to know the Savior."
It's a message he says he would tell to anyone, even Hines, who is in prison.
"I can't say this is the end because it's not; as long as you have your brain you can be productive," says Armstrong.
Life is certainly different for Armstrong, his wife, Lynn, and the entire Armstrong family.
Lynn's the main caretaker, not only for their nine children, but for two foster children — a brother and sister whom they will be adopting in August.
And her and Tracy's relationship has also suffered since the shooting.
"It's more just keeping Tracy comfortable since he's in so much pain," she says. "I turn to prayer all the time. I think I'm praying 24 hours a day."
And Armstrong misses just being able to hop in his truck and drive, let alone playing ball with his kids and driving his family on trips.
"I have had to reinvent myself," he says. "I've lost the ability to do so much … so many things I wanted to do … so many places I wanted to experience. Listen," he chokes, wiping away tears, "it's not the same."
"This trial really never ends," Lynn adds. "You try to make your life to fit the circumstance, but every day is a different challenge."
Despite the many challenges, however, the Armstrongs say there are many positives, too.
"Tracy's a different person since he was shot," Lynn says. "His attitude has changed a lot. He's more gentle and calm. He used to be so focused on work, but now he sees the whole family differently."
"I think everyone's more careful what they say because you never know when it's going to be your last day," daughter Trichelle says.
"We are more valuable to him," Lynn adds.
"But the biggest blessing," Trichelle says, "is that people have helped out a lot."
"To see people come out of the woodwork for Tracy and Lynn," says Armstrong's former LDS bishop, Bret Taylor, "I've never seen anything like it. Living in these little communities like we do, they're hidden blessings."
Lynn's sister, Kristine Beckstead, whose house burned down just last year, agrees. "The great things about living in Utah is when a tragedy happens, they all kick in."
"The ironic thing of all is that I joked with my friends in Panguitch that we moved to a small town to escape the big city (the Armstrongs are originally from Phoenix) and all the violence and kidnappings," says Armstrong as he gets emotional and wipes his eyes.
His brother Quinn still lives in Phoenix and is grateful for the support of southern Utahns.
"If I got hurt, I'd want to live in southern Utah," he said. "I'm so impressed with the help and kindness there. I'll never forget the way the community helped. If I was to tell someone how much the community came together, they wouldn't believe me."
The Armstrongs have never met the woman who donated the Volkswagen van that sits in their driveway. They've never met the family that donated the lift over Armstrong's bed (the local hospital in Panguitch doesn't even have one of these lifts).
They can't even begin to tell about all the donations that poured in — food, restaurant gift certificates, hotel rooms, a re-roofing of their house, shingles, free construction, plumbing and electrical labor, housecleaning. One neighbor even brushes the snow off their vehicles every morning in the wintertime.
"We have so much gratitude," says Lynn, pausing for a moment.
"One of the lessons we learned was that it's OK to let people help you," Lynn says.
"If there was a purpose in all this it would be to slow Tracy down so that he could enjoy the simple things in life," Taylor says.
"We've become more spiritual," says Lynn. "I think we needed that."
"There's hope. It's not the end of the world," Armstrong says. "It's tough. It's painful, but find something that brings you joy. Find something new that gives you pleasure and you'll rediscover life and happiness."
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