Shooting victim's recovery slow; business owner hit by six shots in robbery try

News-DemocratJanuary 19, 2014 

— Riddled with bullets and blood rushing from her body, Judy Ferguson tried to dial her business phone with her left hand to let the Caseyville Police Department know she had just been shot during a robbery.

Her first few attempts were feeble as her hand kept slipping off the dial. She is right-handed, and her right hand had just been shattered by a bullet.

"He took my whole knuckle off on my finger right here," she said pointing to her forefinger on her right hand. "Only a tendon held it together."

Ferguson and her husband, Bill, own Ferguson Television and Satellite on Main Street in Caseyville. A gun-wielding man fired 11 shots, six of them hitting her, during a robbery attempt Nov. 14. In the chaos, Ferguson said she saw her life flash before her eyes.

She felt a tremendous burning sensation from the bullets. She knew she had been shot multiple times and all she wanted to do was get help. But, she had several very anxious moments before she was finally was able to dial 911.

U.S. Attorney Stephen R. Wigginton charged Phillip T. Smith, 28, of Caseyville, with one count of robbery under the Hobbs Act. He is being held on $3 million bond.

Smith was charged under the Hobbs Act because Ferguson Television and Satellite shop is a business engaged in interstate commerce.

In an interview in her home, Ferguson, 66, said sheer guts and determination would not let her give up. Within minutes, police from 20 different agencies swarmed the area and with the help of tips from citizens were able to capture the suspect within an hour.

As Ferguson was being rushed to a St. Louis hospital, she pleaded with the ambulance driver to keep her safe.

"Don't let anything happen to me," she said. A paramedic held her hand all the way to the hospital, while they were cutting off her bloody clothes, she said.

Ferguson said she has endured much pain and the normalcy she once enjoyed in her life has been disrupted forever. Things she use to do, such as dressing her self, washing and styling her hair, taking a bath, cooking, cleaning her house, driving a vehicle, going shopping or just about anything that people do, Ferguson said she can no longer do. She said it has been quite an adjustment.

She has had to rely primarily on her husband for assistance and after two months of the store being closed, he reopened it Monday. So, he is working and caring for his wife, too. She has four children. She credits her love for her family and theirs for her with giving her the will to fight to recover.

Normally, Bill Ferguson would have been at the store, "but he left to go on a job," Ferguson said. "He (the gunman) came in and leaned up against the wall. I didn't think much of it. Sometimes customers are uncomfortable until you talk to them," Ferguson said.

"I talked to him for almost 10 minutes. He really didn't look me in the eyes. He didn't seem like a comfortable customer," she said.

"He told me he wanted information on getting a satellite receiver hooked up. He gave me his right name and correct address, too. He lived right here in Caseyville. I told him I needed a credit card. He said he had a debit card. He sat in the chair next to my desk. He leaned over like he was pulling his wallet from his rear pocket and pulled a gun out and jumped up and shouted, 'Where's the money? Where's the money?'" she said.

Ferguson told the man there was no money. Then he yelled, "Give me your purse. Give me your purse." She said she reached in to get her wallet and was taking out the $42 it contained and "he started shooting, filling the wallet with holes and its contents, too," she said.

Ferguson said even though she tried to give him her wallet, she believes his intention was to kill her because he just started shooting.

Ferguson said a bullet went into the top of her arm and came out through the bottom of her arm and went through a side wall at the store. Her legs and pelvis also were fractured.

"Most of the bullets went through the wall and outside of the building," she said.

After being shot several times, Ferguson dropped her head to the desk. Her body was burning like someone poured scalding oil all over her. She said she felt numb.

Ferguson lay still as the gunman grabbed the paper on which she had written his name and address and wadded it up. "He walked out slowly like he hadn't done anything," she said.

Then she attempted to call the police.

A nearby business captured the audio portion of the shooting and Ferguson has since heard it. That's how police were able to determine that the gunman fired 11 shots.

"He shot once, waited, then shot twice more, then gunfire erupted," Bill Ferguson said.

The road to recovery has been tough. After a two-week stay in St. Louis University Hospital, Ferguson was moved to Anderson Hospital in Maryville.

About an hour after arriving there, she suffered a heart attack and had to have surgery. She said her doctors have told her that the heart attack could have been triggered by the trauma to her body.

After nearly a month in hospitals, Ferguson finally made it home. She said neighbors brought ornaments for her Christmas tree with their names on them. They and customers brought food and sent dozens of get-well cards.

"They've been great," Ferguson said, smiling. "I have always felt safe in Caseyville and at my business, and I am always cautious -- watching to see who comes and goes," she said. If she does return to the store, she plans to be even more cautious.

Bill Ferguson pointed to statues of angels at the base of his Christmas tree and throughout his living room. "All of these angels were working that day. And we are very grateful," he said,

Judy Ferguson said she has a lot to be thankful for. She knows she's Caseyville miracle.

"Everybody's been wonderful. I want to thank them for their prayers and kindness,' she said.

The Fergusons' store has operated in the same location for 25 years and is a fixture in Caseyville. A community event to welcome Judy Ferguson home will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Caseyville VFW.

Mayor Leonard Black said, "There hasn't been a day that goes by that someone doesn't ask how she's doing."

Black said he extends his gratitude to all of the law enforcement agencies for their outstanding work in capturing the suspect.

"By working together as one team, they were able to capture the suspect pretty quickly. We want anyone who thinks they can commit a crime in Caseyville and get away with it to think again. We have some very good policemen and investigators and we have a lot of partners in the surrounding community. We all work together as a team," Black said.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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