On a summer night 15 years ago, a group of people broke into Erica Myron’s house in Mesa, Arizona.
Her life would never be the same.
Nineteen years old at the time, Myron had enrolled in a local community college and was supposed to start in a couple of weeks. She lived with her 9-month-old son, Fabian Smith. She also let her cousin, who Myron said was involved with drugs, stay with her.
“She brought some people into my house that shouldn’t have been there,” Myron recounted in the Office of Student Life at Pierce College Puyallup. “My family told me not to let her stay with me but I’m the type of person who thinks that people just need another chance — if you give them a chance, they’ll prove people wrong.”
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But that didn’t end up being the case.
The evening of July 23, 2003, Myron and her son were kidnapped. It was drug-motivated, Myron said.
“They told me to say goodbye to Fabian because it would be the last time I’d ever see him,” she said.
They told me to say goodbye to Fabian because it would be the last time I’d ever see him.
They left Smith in an apartment complex and drove Myron out to a mountain range in the middle of west Phoenix. Along a dirt road, they stopped at a canal. Myron saw a man standing on a hill.
When she approached, asking what he wanted to talk about, the man pulled out a gun.
“He asked me if I could run faster than a bullet, then I would live,” she said.
She turned to run and felt something strike her in the back.
“It didn’t hurt and it didn’t burn. It felt like I was hit with a rock and I rolled down the hill,” she said.
Myron heard the gun go off several more times. Along with a shot to her back, she was hit in her right arm. Another bullet grazed her left arm. A fourth shattered her hand.
Terrified he’d continue shooting, she didn’t move.
“I picked a star in the sky and just concentrated and held my breath for what just seemed like forever,” she said, as she heard them drive away.
Along with a shot to her back, Erica was hit in her right arm. Another bullet grazed her left arm. A fourth shattered her hand.
Myron tried to stand but she couldn’t feel her legs. She crawled to a nearby railroad tie and draped herself across it, elevating her wounds. Remembering that stuffing gauze inside a wound helps stop bleeding, she tried to do the same with sand, and is still not sure if it helped.
Then Myron called “fire,” thinking it would attract someone faster than calling “help.” No one came — but someone did hear her.
At 1 a.m., a man farming on his ATV thought he heard abandoned kittens and called the police.
As she lay there, Myron thought about her son.
“I thought about Fabian — I’m gonna miss his first day of school, his graduation, his marriage. I have this kid that I wasn’t going to see grow up,” she said.
And then she saw a light.
“People always say that when you die you see a light, and I was thinking, ‘This is the end, this is my time,’ and I just wished my son all the best,” Myron said.
But it was a helicopter.
“The first person I saw was a sheriff who told me that I was going to be OK, that I was safe,” she said.
She gave police her son’s information, and they found him safe seven hours later. The morning after the shooting, two people were found and arrested.
Myron spent three months recovering in the hospital, where she learned she was paralyzed from her L1, or first lumbar, vertebra down.
“I wouldn’t look at my wheelchair because I didn’t want to believe that was going to be the rest of my life,” Myron said.
I wouldn’t look at my wheelchair because I didn’t want to believe that was going to be the rest of my life.
Myron was released from the hospital on Oct. 3, 2003 — Fabian’s first birthday.
Myron returned to school in December 2003. She wanted to help other people like her. She studied criminal justice and got her associate’s degree. But no one would hire her because she was in a wheelchair, she said.
“That was the first living experience, being a wheelchair user, that the world (didn’t) see me the way I saw myself… I still saw myself as capable,” she said.
In 2012, Myron and her son moved to Puyallup. Myron met up with her then-longtime friend, Joshua Myron. The two married more than two years ago.
“When she tells her story, because I love her… I can’t believe that it happened and how dare they — and all these emotions go through me,” said 36-year-old Joshua Myron, who works at an adult treatment center in Tacoma.
Erica Myron wanted to return to school near her new home, this time for nursing. But she was nervous.
It was her son who encouraged her.
“When I was little, I thought she was way too scared to go… there was a quote I kept telling her so many times… at the end I always said, ‘Just do it,’” said Smith, now 15.
“I was worried about her going back (to school) at first ... but the smile on her face when she gets in her car and says ‘I’ll see you later’ and she drives away, I wouldn’t trade that for the world,” Joshua Myron said.
I was worried about her going back (to school) at first...but the smile on her face when she gets in her car and says ‘I’ll see you later’ and she drives away, I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
Erica Myron enrolled at Pierce College Puyallup in January 2017. There, her accomplishments grew. She became the diversity and equity coordinator with the Office of Student Life, responsible for making sure there’s a culturally diverse range of activities and presenters offered to students on campus and online. Her peers learned about her story, and they became like family.
In January, she was one of 34 students honored as a 2018 Transforming Lives award winner. The Transforming Lives award was created by the Washington State Association of College Trustees (ACT) and “recognizes current students and alumni who overcame barriers to their academic goals.” Erica represented Pierce College Puyallup at an awards ceremony and dinner on Jan. 22.
“Erica turned her emotional and physical pain into a source of strength to improve her life through education and serve others,” said Pierce College Trustee Amadeo Tiam. “She not only believes in the Pierce College motto ‘Possibilities Realized,’ she lives it daily.”
Erica turned her emotional and physical pain into a source of strength to improve her life through education and serve others. She not only believes in the Pierce College motto ‘Possibilities Realized,’ she lives it daily.
Amadeo Tiam, Pierce College Trustee
Pierce College Puyallup Student Life director Sean Cooke encouraged her to apply for the award.
“She came through a lot of really challenging stuff to get to where she is today and she’s one of the brightest, most thoughtful, caring people,” Cooke said. “It’s just been wonderful watching her thrive.”
Erica Myron plans to transfer to the University of Washington Tacoma later this year. She’s changed her major a few times, now studying interdisciplinary arts and sciences, specifically mathematics and Spanish.
Erica Myron continues to face obstacles in her wheelchair that many able-bodied people don’t often think about. But she said she’s forgiven the people who hurt her.
“Learning how to be happy — so my son can learn how to be happy and live a fulfilling life — was forgiving these people for the actions that they took on me,” Erica Myron said. “It took many, many years for me to forgive these people, but it’s a choice. There are times when I hate being in a wheelchair ... and I hate these people for what they did to me but I also have to stop and take a moment and accept the fact that I’m in a wheelchair … and be thankful that I’m still alive.”