Elizabeth Cole pulled the bandage from the side of her throat Thursday afternoon, revealing the stitches in the lower left part of her neck.
Somehow, the bullet missed the transgender woman’s major arteries. The doctors told her that some muscles in her neck “caught” the bullet, and it could be difficult to extract.
The 43-year-old Henderson resident said she isn’t sure when or whether the bullet will be removed. As Cole spoke, every now and then she winced and reached toward her wound.
For the past six years, the Navajo woman has been transitioning. In an interview Thursday with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cole showed a range of emotions, but a single recurring feeling was one of incredulity to be alive.
“I was supposed to be dead,” she said, tapping the blood-speckled sidewalk outside her apartment with a hand-carved wooden walking stick. “Right where I’m standing.”
Cole shared her story with the hope of drawing attention to violence targeting transgender people. She said she already volunteers with local organizations, such as The Center, but may explore other ways to help prevent such violence in the future.
“Being who you are is worth dying for,” Cole declared.
Henderson police have arrested Kenneth Lamont Martin, 44, in the shooting. Martin, who is being held in the Henderson Detention Center on $150,000 bail, faces a charge of attempted murder with a deadly weapon and a hate crime enhancement.
Court records did not list an attorney for him as of Friday afternoon. A Henderson police spokeswoman also said Friday that she could not relay a request for a jailhouse interview to Martin until Monday, as city offices were closed.
In Martin’s arrest report, an interview with his girlfriend indicated that he had previously referred to Cole as a “trans (slur).”
Attempts by the Review-Journal to reach the girlfriend were unsuccessful.
Martin, according to his arrest report, declined to be interviewed by police and requested an attorney. His arraignment is set for Monday in Henderson Justice Court.
In Thursday’s interview, Cole said she was shot about 6 p.m. Monday, shortly after she returned home to her Henderson apartment complex to find that a box outside her unit had caught fire. A cigarette flung from the unit above her was to blame.
She put out the fire and went to talk to the man who had discarded the cigarette, asking him to be more careful, she said. Cole said the man admitted to being careless but got upset that she was coming to talk to him, telling her she had no right to talk to him about it.
“He was just so angry,” she said.
Shocked at his response, Cole told him she wanted to be good neighbors with him. He called her several slurs and began to mock her gender identity, despite her attempts to defuse the situation, Cole said.
Feeling as if the man was picking a fight and not allowing her to back down, Cole said she threw a slur back.
The man ran toward Cole and began to punch her, and she blocked his punches, she said. Cole said she lives with several medical conditions and wasn’t a threat to him.
He then told her, “I have something for you,” and went to the upstairs apartment.
The man returned with a gun and held it inches from her body.
“I’m going to kill you,” Cole said he told her, ending his threat with another slur. She said she backed away, put her hands up, and walked back into her apartment.
She got on her cellphone to dial 911. She stepped out of the apartment to see what car he had, and the man was right there with the handgun, again inches from her face. This time he pulled the trigger.
“He made this little smirk like he enjoyed doing it,” Cole said.
The bullet felt like a sledgehammer.
She held a sweater to her neck and dropped to the ground.
A neighbor and others in the complex came to her aid. An arriving officer helped apply pressure to her wound after she couldn’t do it herself, Cole said.
She spent about two hours at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center before heading home.
“I did nothing to warrant being shot,” she said.
Bullet a reminder
Days later, and the bullet is still there. Her vision has weakened in her left eye. She’s experienced some paralysis in her legs, and getting out of bed each morning is an act of willpower, she said. But the bullet serves as a reminder that she’s still here.
Cole has experienced harassment or mistreatment because of her gender identity nearly every day, she said. Sometimes it’s finding spit in her food, and others it’s doctors offices not calling her Elizabeth despite her requests for them to do so.
“I’ve been offended so many times — thousands of times, I’ve been offended as a trans person,” she said. “What would I do if I had the justification to shoot everyone who had offended me?”
Living as herself is a difficult journey, but a lifelong one worth living, she said. Nothing will stop her from being Elizabeth. Not even a bullet.
Help with medical bills
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Elizabeth Cole with medical bills.