Whitney Austin: Shot 12 times, Fifth Third Bank survivor vows to make a difference
Bank manager said she feels sadness for shooter who killed 3 people
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Whitney Austin said the only explanation for her surviving 12 gunshot wounds is that it’s a miracle.
“It didn’t make sense,” Austin said in an interview with WAVE 3 News at her Highlands home Wednesday. “It didn’t make sense at all. How could that happen? How could I be feeling as good as I did?”
The digital products manager at Fifth Third Bank recalled what happened the morning of Sept. 6, when as she was entering the headquarters office in Cincinnati through a revolving door.
At the time, she was on a conference call on her cellphone and didn’t notice several people waving at her not to go in, or give much though to the bullet hole she saw in the glass.
“I have a lot of regrets that I didn’t put more of that together and realize this is dangerous, you shouldn’t be walking in this door,” Austin said.
She said as soon as she started going through the door, she felt pain in the right side of her body. She heard the gunshots from the lobby and knew she had been hit.
“I tried to get up,” she said. “I tried to get out of that revolving door, but I didn’t have the strength. I was still processing where I was hit, what was hurt, what I could do, what I couldn’t do and I couldn’t get up.”
She said she immediately tried to look for a way to escape.
“It was a dead end,” Austin said. “Nothing else I could do. Can’t get out of this situation. Scanning Fountain Square, I don’t see anybody to save me and at that point I just thought, ‘Alright, this is it. I’m dying.’ That’s what I thought.”
Her thoughts went to her two children, ages 5 and 7 years old, at school. Then she tried to reach for her phone to call her husband Waller.
“When I moved is when he shot me again,” Austin said. “And that’s when I honestly got really angry at that point. Are you kidding me? Why didn’t you just play dead? Just play dead. That’s your best chance for surviving, is to play dead.”
She said she was also coughing up blood, but made eye contact with one of the officers. She said his face had fear on it, but as soon as he shot the gunman, he went to help her.
“They took him down and he immediately ran over and helped me out of the revolving door,” Austin said. “I thought they carried me out, but I have since seen footage and I walked out, not well, but I walked out of the revolving door.”
They laid her down near a flagpole, allowing her body to stretch out. Austin said she could breathe, and her heart rate returned to normal. She asked the officer to call her husband who was at home in Louisville.
“It was so unreal, didn’t make any sense,” her husband, Waller Austin, said. “Sounded like the worst prank ever.”
He immediately drove to the hospital in Cincinnati where Austin was kept for five days. She has had one surgery on her arm, with another one scheduled in about a month. In the meantime, she is doing a lot of therapy because she can’t drive or type yet.
Austin has started a nonprofit called www.WhitneyStrong.org, and is working to raise money to hire experts to assist her with making federal and local legislative changes. She said she wants to keep her mind open to the first issue to attack, but added that she believes that work needs to be done to prevent the mentally ill from getting guns.
“I’m not a Democrat,” she said. “I’m not a Republican. I don’t vote for parties. I vote for issues. And if we are going to move this issue forward, that’s the way we need to think.”
As for the man who shot her, Austin said she feels sadness for him.
“You were in a position where I think we failed you,” she said. “You had a mental illness, and you needed support and you didn’t get it. So you ended up in that awful situation that you felt compelled there was no other way out. You needed to come into a public building and take other’s lives.”
Austin also said the work she does will be in honor of the three people who died in the shooting.
“I now have this opportunity to make a real difference in this world,” she said. “There’s not sorrow. There’s not sadness. Entirely different from their situations and they motivate me to make that difference.”
Waller Austin, who is an artist, has an upcoming show scheduled for Oct. 5 at the Tim Faulkner gallery. He is making molds of the type of gun that his wife was shot with, and then plans to break them during a performance.
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