Archive for Sunday, July 24, 2011

8-year-old Linwood girl continues recovery from 2008 gunshot injury

Linwood mother JoAnne Cook talks about her daughter Katherine's recovery from a gunshot wound to the head in February of 2008.

July 24, 2011


Learning to live

In October 2008 we first introduced you to Katherine Cook. Her life came to a halt when a bullet pierced her head. It was a freak accident that remains unsolved. What continues is the journey of a remarkable recovery.

JoAnne Cook leans over to get a kiss from her daughter Katherine after the 8-year-old told her mom that she loved her Thursday, July 21, 2011. In February 2008, Katherine was shot in the head while playing in the backyard of her Linwood home. The bullet remains lodged in her head and will not be removed because of the potentially more harmful risks of the procedure.

JoAnne Cook leans over to get a kiss from her daughter Katherine after the 8-year-old told her mom that she loved her Thursday, July 21, 2011. In February 2008, Katherine was shot in the head while playing in the backyard of her Linwood home. The bullet remains lodged in her head and will not be removed because of the potentially more harmful risks of the procedure.

Katherine laughs as she talks about all the nicknames that she has given to her siblings.

Katherine laughs as she talks about all the nicknames that she has given to her siblings.

Katherine negotiates her way down the stairs of her home.

Katherine negotiates her way down the stairs of her home.

Visitors to 8-year-old Katherine Cook’s home in Linwood will find out pretty quickly what’s important to the girl.

She loves her little sister, Rachel, 5, and her mom, who’s the world’s best cook. She’s really into sign language, and takes great pains to learn how to sign the names of the people she meets. If you’re one of those people, she also wants to know a lot about you.

How many people are in your family? Do you have pets? Do you have a nickname?

Three years ago, though, Katherine’s chances of making it to her sixth birthday were slim. She spent weeks in a medically induced coma after being shot in the head by a stray bullet while playing outside her home. The bullet entered Katherine’s head just above her left eye, traveled through her brain and ricocheted off the back of her skull, before coming to rest toward the back of her head — where it remains today.

Following the July 4 stray bullet shooting death of Blair Shanahan Lane — an 11-year-old Kansas City, Mo., girl — Katherine’s mom, JoAnne, shared her daughter’s story to help highlight the consequences of recklessly shooting firearms.

“We were never into retribution,” said JoAnne of her daughter’s case, which has never resulted in an arrest. “We want it to be a positive story for Katherine.”

JoAnne speaks out two years after another stray bullet incident killed 46-year-old Lawrence attorney Deanna Lieber, as she was driving home from the Starlight Theater in Kansas City, Mo., with her daughter.

As the bubbly and sociable Katherine talks about her new kittens, JoAnne said she shares the pain with other families affected by such gun violence.

“I guess we feel a lot the same as any of the families that have been shot by random bullets,” she said. “We wish something would change in the way laws were written that protected innocent victims a little differently.”

Both Katherine’s and Lieber’s cases remain unsolved, and accountability for those who pull the trigger in stray bullet shootings is a difficult task for the criminal justice system In Katherine’s case, there are suspects, JoAnne said, but a crucial piece of evidence — the bullet — remains lodged in Katherine’s head. Removing the bullet poses too large a medical risk. The Leavenworth County Sheriff’s Office did not return calls for comment on Katherine’s case.

In Lieber’s case, police never publicly identified a suspect, and a spokesman for the Kansas City Police Department said there have been no new developments.

Statistics for stray bullet shootings are not kept nationally, but unsolved stray bullet cases stretch across the country, said Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Some are the consequence of random gang shootings, while others — like Katherine’s case — result from apparently motive-less, reckless firearm usage, he said. Tracking who shot the gun, let alone identifying what gun the bullet came from, is an uphill battle, Everitt said.

Blair’s July 4 shooting death remains an exception, as a police investigation identified three people who were shooting a gun near the area. The owner of the gun has since been charged with manslaughter.

Everitt said stray bullet shootings are a symptom of the larger problem of gun violence. More guns on the streets — in the hands of untrained or irresponsible people — creates the environment where stray bullet shootings can occur.

“We live in a society where there is very little screening for buying guns,” he said.

JoAnne — who said she is not necessarily an “anti-gun” person — agrees that people need better awareness and training in firearm use.

“Let’s be educated about what weapons are capable of,” she said. “And be realistic about what happens when a bullet goes somewhere that doesn’t get caught by a backdrop.”

JoAnne said she doesn’t know what the clear answer is, but would favor increasing penalties for people who discharge firearms recklessly.

Arizona adopted “Shannon’s Law” in 2000 that makes discharging a firearm — with exceptions — a felony. Legislators in Missouri have discussed adding a similar “Blair’s Law” in the city limits of Kansas City. Discharge of a firearm is prohibited by both Kansas statute and Lawrence city code, and both are misdemeanors.

For the past few years, though, JoAnne and her family have focused on Katherine’s progress.

Through years of therapy, Katherine has made large strides in improving her daily functioning — and will be entering the second grade this fall at Linwood Elementary School.

But the progress slows down some with time, JoAnne said.

Katherine has very little use of her left arm, which makes many tasks — such as using scissors — difficult. Katherine asks the same questions repeatedly, displaying some of the cognitive and memory deficits that will most likely last a lifetime.

The successes, while much smaller than when Katherine first became able to talk or walk again after the shooting, are celebrated — such as Katherine’s ability to understand math and improve her reading skills.

And while personality changes are common in brain injuries, Katherine’s has never wavered from the inquisitive, social butterfly who makes everyone at ease, JoAnne said.

Before visitors leave Katherine’s home, she’ll probably have one last question for them: Can she have a hug?


Cait McKnelly 6 years, 11 months ago

What's a few deaths and disabilities as long as we have our Second Amendment rights?

Flap Doodle 6 years, 11 months ago

The "never miss a chance to exploit tragedy" crowd was up early this morning.

skinny 6 years, 11 months ago

I think Cait48 forgets we live in a FREE country!

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 11 months ago

Free to do anything we want regardless of the consequences? Surely that's not what you mean.

Ewok79 6 years, 10 months ago

We need to re-evaluate the 2nd amendment. You never read any thing good about guns. It's always some dumb gangster, or trigger happy red neck shooting somebody. And it's always sombody innocent getting hurt. Never protecting anyone like it's intended for.

janetw 6 years, 11 months ago

I hope this family has found Julie Gatts at KU Schiefelbush Institute. She is an amazing speech therapist and a great resource.

Gary Anderson 6 years, 11 months ago long as you are willing to admit that it IS a tragedy for a child to be shot by a gun owner...I suppose there is still hope.

Jean1183 6 years, 11 months ago

Horrible tragedy!

I wish that Hunter Education was taught in school. Not necessarily for the hunting aspect, but for the gun safety. Although, there are other things in the course that would also be beneficial: wildlife conservation, first aid, boating safety, etc.

There is a FREE on-line course that can be taken at

It does say to enroll in one of the field day tests offered (which is also required to get your certificate) but I believe you can take the on-line course without doing the field day.

Perhaps the LJW could do a follow-up story about the course??? The Hunter Education Dept staff is extremely helpful!

Sharon Aikins 6 years, 11 months ago

Sorry, snap, but it is a tragedy and this girl with live her whole life with the results of someone else's irresponsibility. I'm not against gun ownership but if you have one, be careful and be responsible.

the_realest_mccoy 6 years, 11 months ago

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Scott Morgan 6 years, 11 months ago

deny access to motorcycles, boats, swimming pools, fast cars, really good homemade double cheeseburgers, ranch style home roofs, really good looking but mean girls, off road pickup trucks, rock ledges, tile floor bathtubs, horses, ghosts, angry x-cons with IQs lower than 80, bicycles, trees over 8 foot tall..............

beatrice 6 years, 11 months ago

none2, I would agree with you on the "professional" part, but being trained in order to own just doesn't seem unreasonable. In the past, I've seen at least one person on this board claiming to be a gun owner swear that bullets shot into the air won't harm others because they saw it on Mythbusters. They mistake "straight into the air" with an arched trajectory. Some people who own are just clueless. (Plenty who don't own are even more clueless, but we don't really have to worry about them shooting others because of ignorance.) Recently in Arizona, a legislator gave an interview about her habit of taking a "cute, pink" handgun with her into the chamber, noting that she always has it on her, always keeps it loaded and that it doesn't have a safety. At one point, she demonstrated the use of the laser guide ... by pointing it at the chest of the reporter! Yet she swore she knew all about gun safety, having learned from her father. Obviously, dad either didn't know rule number one of gun safety, or daughter was a horrible student. It has caused quite the little controversy in AZ. The point is, training is important and it should be mandatory.

chootspa 6 years, 10 months ago

Guns are fungible and cost a large chunk of change, which generally already makes them an area of society exclusively for those with money.

beatrice 6 years, 10 months ago

That makes sense to me. Demonstrate the ability to use a gun in a safe manner and you can have one -- and you can carry it where you wish (excluding airplanes).

beatrice 6 years, 10 months ago

According to the NRA, rule #1 is "Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction." (Which can be translated to mean: never point a gun at anything you wouldn't want to shoot.)

Not quite as exciting as "You do not talk about Fight Club," but still a good rule #1.

Jean1183 6 years, 10 months ago

Rule #1 in Hunter Ed is: treat EVERY gun as if it were loaded, which then leads to rule #2 always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.

beatrice 6 years, 10 months ago

Makes sense. Pointing a gun in an unsafe direction seems like a pretty # 2 thing to do.

Deja Coffin 6 years, 10 months ago

I remember reading this story when it happened. I'm so glad to hear the little girl is doing well and only wish that the person who accidentally shot her would have at least admitted to shooting a gun in that area that day. I truly believe with as much media coverage and police investigating that was done the shooter had to of known of the accident.

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