GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - A West Michigan mother and her wounded son say it's time to take a stand against guns and violence.
The family has experienced heartbreak firsthand and, after last week's tragic school shooting in Connecticut, would like to see meaningful change to stop the cycle of pain and suffering they say is happening much too often.
Cynthia Bibbs has had enough. The Grand Rapids mom just lost two loved ones during three days to gunfire -- she said she knew both women found dead in Grand Rapids on Friday and Saturday.
And she nearly lost her son, Mark O'Leary, when he was shot in November.
"There are too many guns on the street. If you look at everything that's been happening that's been going on -- even with my son," said Bibbs. "The incidents with the two people we know in the past few days with two people being killed."
After being shot in the face outside a party store on the Grand Rapids' northwest side, O'Leary lost sight in one eye and can barely see out of the other.
"I remember that was the most terrifying day of my life, is what I do remember, O'Leary said.
He said he had a dispute with the shooter before the incident.
O'Leary said he had seen the shooter while at another store when the shooter asked another man for a gun. O'Leary said he tried to prevent the other man from giving the shooter a gun and that he and the shooter shoved one another. The shooter, O'Leary said, then fired the gun at the store. O'Leary fled the scene, but the two ran into one another later.
"He said to me, 'Why did you try to stop me?' I told him there were innocent people standing by. I'm not stupid, and I'm not going to jail. Don't do stupid stuff around me," O'Leary recalled. "So he asked me 'Do you think I'm soft?' I said, 'I don't think you're soft.'
"I looked down to look at my chips, and that's when he shot me in the face once. I was still in shock, I turned around. I tried to run, but I didn't get far at all. I was shot two more times in the back," said O'Leary. "I had to practically crawl to the store. I got to the store and I just kept begging for help. I started praying to God. And I just woke up in the hospital."
While his vision isn't clear, O'Leary and his mother are quite focused on ending the cycle of violence ripping so many families apart.
"I don't want any other mother, any other parent to feel what I felt. And it's just sad," said Bibbs.
She also said she wants justice for her son.
"I don't think anyone should feel they have the right to stand face-to-face with you and shoot you in your face, and as you turn around and try to run for your life, then they shoot you twice again in your back," she said.
"Before it happens, it could be anyone. Anyone. I just don't want to see that happen. I almost lost my life. It's crazy," said O'Leary.
The Kent County prosecutor confirmed to 24 Hour News 8 the shooter in O'Leary's case -- identified as Erik Hawkins-Giffen -- took a plea deal. He pleaded guilty to assault with intent to murder and felony firearm charges. Sentencing is set for Jan. 22, 2013.
"It hurts me everyday that I look at my son," said Bibbs. "He can't see life the same way he did before. He can never look at his daughter as he looked at her before. He won't be able to look at her on her wedding day, and see her in her fullness. He can't look outside and see anything in its fullness."
Despite her own trauma, Bibbs said the Dec. 14 horror in Connecticut cemented the feelings she has on guns, violence and their increasing role in our neighborhoods.
"I watched the little children that went on in Connecticut. It's hurtful because we're all people. We all have to live in this world together," said Bibbs.
She hopes the tragedy will finally drive home the need for meaningful change.
"We as people, we have to stop it," said Bibbs. "When we see something happen, we have to report it."
"We just can't sit back and continue to allow it to happen, and then wait for it to come to our door, and then when it happens to our family members, then we are ready to speak out, then we want to get mad, then we want to get upset," added Bibbs. "Then that's when we want to have something to say. We shouldn't have to wait until it comes to our door. Outside our door is our neighbor's door. That's also our doors. The next block is also our door. So we shouldn't have to wait. We should all do something."
O'Leary's family is struggling to pay more than $60,000 worth of medical bills and doesn't expect to have much of a Christmas this year.
A fund has been set up in Mark O'Leary's name at Fifth Third Bank to help cover medical expenses. Donations may be made at any Fifth Third Bank branch in his name.
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