Jackson still lives in fear after Martinsville school shooting
Chance Jackson was the shooter's target. His friend Brandon Kent witnessed the whole thing.
Now, for the first time, they are talking about surviving a chaotic school shooting in Martinsville.
The two-year anniversary of the crime is looming and the horrifying moments of that morning are still haunting.
"Sometimes I just get real upset and start crying," said Jackson.
The 17-year-old has been reluctant to talk about what happened before classes began March 25, 2011 at West Middle School. It's when Michael Phelps, a suspended student, pending expulsion, took a gun to school.
"As soon as I seen it I just froze and was like, 'Oh crap'," Jackson said.
His friend Brandon Kent was standing there and saw it too.
"I did not think that morning I would wake up and go to school and end up leaving early because I would see my friend get shot in front of my face," Kent said.
It certainly was a shock in the moment, but it wasn't without warning.
Michael Phelps posted on his Facebook page, "Today is the Day."
A full 40 minutes before the bell at West Middle that morning, Phelps sent multiple texts to a female classmate.
"Did Chance say anything about him not being at school today? I hope he shows up at school, cause I'm going to do something I told you I wasn't. You will see when you get to school, sorry."
Chance says she came with a warning, "Michael is here to kick your (expletive)."
Chance texted his mother.
"She said, "Go to the office,' and I said, 'I am not going to the office, I'm not a snitch and it's just going to get worse if I tell'," Jackson said.
To this day, his mother Becky regrets not rushing to the school.
"Why didn't I just get up and say, 'Oh my God, something is wrong' and go?" Becky asks.
The confrontation went down right inside a side entrance - Door Number 2. It's close to the cafeteria where many students get breakfast at school. Chance remembers Phelps' verbal attacks first.
"Michael said, 'I heard you have been talking (expletive) about me.' I said, 'No, I've been trying to avoid you and stay away from you, because it's nothing but trouble," Jackson recalled. "He said, 'Not what I heard' and I said, 'Well, you heard wrong.'"
Brandon says he saw the gun.
"I remember standing there and next thing you know, Chance against the wall, sliding down the wall with blood on him. I got hit on my wrist, right here, the shell casings actually hit me and skid down my arm," he said.
Eyewitness News obtained images of the crime scene. They show a pool of blood on the floor, smears of blood on the walls, scattered shell casings and a discarded backpack.
Chance was critically injured and rode in a helicopter to Methodist Hospital, where he stayed more than three weeks. He is mother says the two bullets hit and damaged organs before exiting his back. His chest is streaked with scars and he knows the story behind each one.
"This one was the feeding tube and this was the second shot and here you can see (an) indent, that was the first shot," Jackson said.
He then turns to reveal two sizeable exit wounds in his back. Every time he sees the scars, he says, "I think of that day."
There are psychological scars, too. Becky says Chance was diagnosed with anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"I kept having dreams that Michael was going to come back and kill me," Jackson said.
Chance's family doesn't have the money for a psychiatrist. A counselor volunteers her time with him.
"I get anxious a lot," he said. "Going through all the pain and the emotions just feels like I'm suffering."
Becky says the recovery is an "extremely slow process."
For much of the last year, Chance wouldn't leave the house unless he was wearing a bulletproof vest. It was loaned to the family from the Brooklyn Police Department.
"I tried to wear it every time I left and it just made me feel secure, safer," he said.
"Anytime we went to Martinsville, he would wear it. He would wear it if we went to Greenwood Mall, or Walmart. If we left to go anywhere, he would wear it. If we were at home, the doors were locked, windows were locked, curtains are pulled," said his mother.
Chance and Brandon share the same fears, so they increasingly spend time together. They hang at home and play video games.
Brandon transferred schools. He is now a freshman at Decatur Central High School. He says these days he misses more school than he makes.
"I wake up every morning thinking, 'Am I actually going to come back home today, or am I going to be stuck in a hospital? Or am I going to even survive that day to go back and see my mom?'" said Kent.
His mother says Brandon fears retaliation.
"He testified against Michael Phelps, everybody knows that he testified. Who is to say that somebody doesn't come after him for it?" said Kelli Dearth.
Chance is getting off-site tutoring provided by Martinsville Schools, but his mother worries about the future.
"If he can't function in a school environment, how is he going to function having a job? What kind of life is going to have as an adult? Is he going to be a productive person?" she asks.
Right now, Michael Phelps is behind bars at the Wabash Valley Level 4 Correctional Facility. With good behavior, Phelps will be released in 13 years.
Phelps told police he got the gun from a friend weeks before the shooting. After he fired, he fled. Police quickly made an arrest and say they found the gun soon after, discarded in weeds near the school.
Phelps confessed to the shooting. But the legal fight isn't over. The families are suing the school, seeking damages that collectively top 2.2 million dollars. If there is a payout, it would come from the district's insurance company.
"The biggest disappointment is that people think that I'm doing it for the money when it has nothing to do with that. It has to do with proving a point, a point of how the schools should have had safety for these children and this should have never ever happened."
Indianapolis Attorney Tom Wheeler represents Martinsville Schools. He declined comment, citing ongoing litigation. The families say the silence hurts.
"I would like to see some of them swallow their pride and admit that they screwed up," Becky said.
Catherine Michael represents the Jackson family. She says Chance "needs support in almost every area of his life, because he has not been able to get back on his feet. The victims stay in that same place, where they are not fully recovering and the world is still moving forward and yet they are left behind in a lot of respects. This is simply about making sure that he has some care in the future and that the expense of the family are repaid.
"Unfortunately it's very difficult to fix things once they are broken. I think our goal is simply to as much as possible remedy this for the future get chance as much psychological help as we can now and in the future and ensure that the school is safe so that parents don't worry when they send their kids to school and they at know that the school is going to be monitoring who comes in and out," Michael said.
Eyewitness News went back to West Middle School before school and saw that Door Number 2 was locked. Student traffic is funneled through the front door, which has a new security sign, detailing who can come in.
A late student was let in with a key.
The district has reviewed it security, but Chance and Brandon say they will never go back.