Student wounded by stray bullet plans to return to USC

Published: Oct. 17, 2013 at 3:48 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 15, 2013 at 9:11 PM EST
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Martha Childress
Martha Childress

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Family members say 18-year-old Martha Childress plans to return to classes at the University of South Carolina next semester.

Jim Carpenter said the freshman had a good day Wednesday, sitting up in a chair and visiting with family and friends. She even received a phone call from country music performer Hunter Hayes.

Childress has quickly become the face of an issue many believe is plaguing Columbia's Five Points entertainment district -- violent crime.

She was an innocent bystander waiting for a taxi cab with her friend early Sunday morning when one man's decision to fire a gun changed her life forever.

That man, 21-year-old Michael Juan Smith, was allegedly arguing with two other men when police say he pulled out a gun and fired. Childress was hit in the midsection. The 40-caliber bullet hit her spinal cord. She immediately told friends she could not feel her legs.

She was rushed to Palmetto Health Richland Hospital in critical condition. She will remain there until she is moved to The Shepherd Center, a spinal cord injury hospital in Atlanta, to begin rehabilitation.

Family members say the bullet has left Martha paralyzed.

Martha and her mother will spend 30 days at the clinic and then another 30 days in apartment together before she can return to school.

She'd like to return to school in the spring. Carpenter says it's a lofty goal, but a goal Martha is working to achieve.

Since the shooting, law enforcement, business owners and elected officials have begun in earnest trying to come up with a solution to the apparent danger that is present in Five Points after dark.

USC President Harris Pastides even took the extraordinary step to announce to students that the popular hangout is not safe after midnight anymore.

On Wednesday, Columbia's mayor held a community meeting to discuss solutions. Five Points business owner and state representative Kirkman Finlay met with the media, saying police in Columbia have failed to keep the people of the city safe.

Smith faces charges of assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime, and possession of a stolen pistol. Martha's family is urging prosecutors to upgrade his charges to attempted murder.

The family has set up a fund to help pay for Martha Childress' medical bills. If you'd like to donate, you can do so by sending a check to the Martha Childress Fund and BB&T Bank. The address is: P.O. Box 25653 Greenville, SC 29161.

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