Beyond the Blast

Erin Bower
Anne Marie Tiernon/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - In April 1989, a young girl was hurt when a pipe bomb exploded at the K-Mart in Castleton. Twenty years later, the store is torn down. Erin Bower shares with Eyewitness News how she built a full life beyond the blast.

Erin Bower's school days are finally over.

"I feel like I've been in school forever," she said.

Erin now has a master's degree and is ready to work as a physical therapist. She's come a long way.

Twenty years ago, she lost her left hand and sight in one eye after handling a pipe bomb.

"I remember seeing a tube of toothpaste - a pump style toothpaste - and it was not in the right spot," said Erin. "I remember noticing that something wasn't right that there were wires in it so I set it back down."

That's when the bomb blew up in five-year-old Erin's face.

"The next thing you new it was just total chaos," said Erin's father Kevin.

Two men in the Kmart store answered Erin's mother's screams for help. One of those men was medical school student Louis Profeta.

"I heard this amazingly blood curdling scream," he said at the time.

Kevin Bower said Profeta was a godsend. People at the scene applied ice to Erin's horrific wounds.

"She was complaining to me that she couldn't see," said Erin's father.

Erin was rushed to the hospital in a helicopter. Profeta stayed behind, sobbing outside the store.

At Methodist Hospital, doctors provided updates, calling the girl's injury "devastating."

Kevin Bower wanted his daughter back.

"Just a joy to be around, very friendly and there is no reason to think that she is not going to be that way when we get done."

The investigation into the pipe bomb was just starting. Investigators studied what was left of the bomb and built a replica. The family finally left the hospital to continue recovery at home.

"I remember I wanted to just stay in bed it was just overwhelming to me what had happened," said Maureen Bower, Erin's mother. "He said, I'll never forget Kevin saying, 'You can't stay in bed because if you give up, she'll give up.' And I thought I can't let her give up and that is what motivated me."

Erin got a prosthetic left arm. She had no vision in her droopy left eye.

"Erin had a hard time looking at herself. That upset me terribly," said her mother.

"I think that is why it was hard on my mom," said Erin, beginning to cry. "I can't really I just take it so lightly but if that was my child it would kill me. That child was perfect and then something happened. I was just innocent and someone did something like that."

Erin's appearance improved when she got a glass eye in the eighth grade.

A year after the blast, investigators named the bomber. David Swinford, a teenager form Noblesville, committed suicide two days after the bombing.

"I'm sure this boy had no idea what consequences were going to take place," said Erin's mother.

"I think it was more of a practical joke and it actually hurt someone it hurt me and once he found that out I think he didn't know what to do. I don't think he could live with that thought," said Erin.

"I feel horrible for that family. They lost more than what my family lost," she added. "I have forgiven him."

As for Erin, she doesn't want anyone's pity.

"I just want to show everyone that I am doing great," she said. "Bad things happen to good people and if you work through it, you'll be fine."

Erin types with one hand and has mastered doing her own hair.

"Driving was probably the hardest thing to learn with one eye but I don't know what it would be like to drive with two eyes and two arms," she said.

During her physical therapy internship, Erin shows her young patients that she's been there and done that, and they can too.

"I want to help others so much because of the help I've gotten from others. That has really defined me as a person," said Erin.

Louis Profeta is now a doctor. He was so moved by what happened that night he wrote about it in his book. He had no idea that he was working in the same hospital as Erin Bower. They finally met up recently.

"You look a lot better than the last time I saw you," said Dr. Profeta.

"I read your book," Erin told him.

Strangers still, but forever linked.

"Your parents must be so proud," he told Erin.

The honors were awarded on Mother's Day - when Erin graduated with a doctorate.

"I am so proud of her. She's overcome so much. It couldn't happen on a more perfect day," said Maureen Bower.

Erin has a job waiting for her at St. Vincent Hospital - as an entry level therapist with a lifetime of experience.