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Surviving a day at a time

Published February 9, 2008 2:12 am

Tuft still suffers pain of injuries, daughter's death
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Carolyn Tuft's aching body is a highway of scars: an angry jagged line in her right armpit marks the first time Sulejman Talovic shot her. His second shotgun blast left a hole in her back the size of a fat grapefruit. Doctors split her open vertically in the hours that followed.

It's a body that many women would shroud and grieve. Tuft put on a swimsuit last summer instead.

"If people are curious I'll tell them why - if not, they can stare and wonder," the 45-year-old said. "There's a story behind all my scars and there's nothing I can do about it."

The gunman at Trolley Square killed her youngest daughter, 15-year-old Kirsten Hinckley, and left Tuft with a weakened arm, a limp, constant pain and a hand that doesn't quite work. Once a commissioned artist and housecleaner, now she struggles to slip a piece of paper into an envelope.

She has to start over, but doesn't know where.

"It's like a double-edged sword because I appreciate every single day - there's not a minute that goes by I don't recognize my kids' lives and how important they are to me," she said. "But I don't know how I'm going to exist beyond tomorrow."

Still, Tuft keeps getting up and facing the day.

"If I don't, if I cave in, then the shooter won - I can't let him win," she said. "My life is going to pass. I want it to be full of good things, so I have to make those happen."

The first year

Good deeds keep rescuing her.

After Tuft went home from LDS Hospital in March, a woman delivered donations from the Trolley Square mall fund for victims. Go on vacation to heal, she suggested.

On her MySpace page, Kirsten had written Tuscany, Italy, was the place she most wanted to visit. Tuft and her children - Kaitlin, 19, Parker, 24, Scott, 21 - followed her dream.

Tuft signed up for a women's bike tour in Italy with her surviving daughter, trying to show her that you get on your bike, you pedal and life is still good. She had been a cyclist before the shooting, and doctors told her that being physically fit may have helped her survive.

A bike was re-designed so she could sit up and pedal rather than crouch in pain, and the gear shifts were moved so she could use her left hand, her good hand, to operate them.

Still, "Everything we saw, we wished Kirsten were there," Tuft said. And as the year went on, the firsts were hard.

Broke, recovering from two surgeries, Tuft had planned not to do Christmas. But when the holiday neared and she couldn't, it was heartbreaking.

Then she got a check in the mail from her mother's cousin, a person she'd never met. A few days later, the cousin's friend sent another. Then a box arrived from Trolley Square, with ornaments and more money.

While unfolding Kirsten's stocking made the family weep, Christmas came after all.

The new life

Doctors told Tuft that about a year after the shooting, she would know what normal would mean. Today, poisoned by hundreds of lead pellets still in her body, she wakes up nauseated every morning. Her kidney hurts from the pellets lodged inside.

In December, surgeons added fat to her weakened right arm, because the gunshots had ripped it to the bone. Later this month, another surgery should improve the movement in her right hand.

Nerve damage has stolen her fine motor skills and made touching things feel like, in her words, chewing tinfoil.

"Petting my cat is painful," she said on a recent afternoon at home, as Mineau, a gift for Kirsten's 8th birthday, meowed. "Her fur does not feel soft to me. It's kind of like rubbing a doormat."

Still without health insurance, Tuft is grateful to the many people whose names she will never know.

LDS Hospital has written off more than $100,000 in care. Community donations have paid her rent, kept her lights on and funded her surgeries.

As the anniversary approaches, she wonders how to someday start a college scholarship for students who want to pursue Kirsten's dream of being an architect.

A pair of hearts

For Tuft, finding a strand of Kirsten's hair in her old bedroom is like discovering a treasure. Cleaning out the room last spring, Tuft spotted gift cards the girl had received for her 14th birthday and misplaced. She and her daughter decided to spend them for her.

Tuft chose a necklace with two hearts, a silver one for Kirsten and a wood one for herself.

"Of heaven and earth," she said. "And I always wear it."


Sulejman Talovic's Feb. 12 rampage at Trolley Square mall last year killed five shoppers, wounded four others and, for a time, left a stunned community feeling more threatened. The three seriously injured survivors have spent a year grieving and physically recovering - while buoyed by the kindness of both friends and strangers.

Events in memory and support

* A silent memorial will be held at Trolley Square mall from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday. Visitors can leave mementos and notes to the families in the south amphitheatre.

* St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, at 231 E. 100 South, will hold a celebration of the Holy Eucharist on Tuesday at

12:10 p.m. in commemoration of the victims and their families. All are welcome.

* The Trolley Square Memorial Fund at Wells Fargo Bank continues to accept contributions.




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