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January 3, 2013

Man shot at fair living life with bullet in chest

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The .22-caliber bullet rests less than an inch and a half from Marquis Mason’s beating heart.

For him, it’s a life-altering wound from the Nov. 3 Coastal Empire Fairground shooting, which injured seven other people.

Doctors have told the Savannah 19-year-old and his family surgery to remove the bullet is too risky.

They have cautioned Mason that life with a bullet in his chest will be different.

He will have to limit the weightlifting and exercise he once enjoyed. He will need to carry a card explaining to airport security he has metal in his body. If he ever needs an MRI, there is a medical risk the magnets could shift the bullet.

Marquis doesn’t see the bullet only for its limitations. He sees it as God calling him back to the path he was meant to walk.

“After this incident, I believe God has shown me this is what you really need to be doing,” he said. “I realized I had a calling.

“I got hit in five major spots, and I survived,” he said. “Some people don’t survive one.”

Part of what he intends to do is reach out to young men his age.

He will start this week during the 23rd Annual Twelve Night Sacrifical Revival. His father, the Rev. Eric Mason, is one of the event organizers.

“We just want to get the message out that we are trying to slow down the violence as much as we can,” Marquis Mason said. “I think the main thing now, there’s a lot of kids who didn’t have the love and support of a mom and dad like I did. They think their life is over after high school, but little do they know they have things to look forward to instead of being on the street.

“If I can change just one person’s mind about that, I think I will have made a difference.”

Mason says he holds no grudge against those involved in the shooting. He is not sure he would be allowed to speak to them, but if we were, he would say that once they leave jail, they need to try to move forward in life, as he is trying to do.

In high school, he said, he had wanted to combine his parents’ careers. His mother, Sharleen Simmons, is a Chatham County Sheriff’s deputy. His father is pastor of Jesus First Christian Community Church.

Marquis Mason wanted to major in criminal justice, but also minister.

Even in high school, it sometimes set him apart.

“My friends would say, ‘Oh Mason, we’re going to run from you,’ and I would tell them, ‘You can run, but I’ll have backup.”’

By his senior year, his straight-and-narrow life was hitting a curve, he admits. Schools and athletics weren’t as important as a new girlfriend.

By May, his college plans were uncertain. He thought about following his girlfriend to her college, but ended up enrolling at Savannah Tech in August while he figured out what he wanted to do.

He was, he admits, coasting.

Normally, Mason wouldn’t have gone to the last Saturday night at the Coastal Empire fair.

Too risky, too much chance of a fight or a shooting, he and other teens knew.

Even if those problems had always happened outside the gate, why risk it, he thought.

This November, though, was different.

“I went because all my friends were going to be leaving, going back to college, and they were like, ‘Come on man, you’ve got to come.”’

They walked the fairgrounds, sharing college plans, reliving high school stories, meeting other friends and having a pretty normal night.

Mason remembers passing a cluster of police officers, and moments later, about 10:40 p.m., hearing what sounded like firecrackers.

Not firecrackers, he realized. Gunshots. Then people screaming.

He turned to see a man in a hoodie and black jeans, head cocked, gun extended, as he shot into the crowd.

“I walked like one more step and then I fell to the ground,” he said. “...when I touched my hand where I’d been hurt, I seen a whole bunch of blood on my hand, and I said, ‘Oh my God, this can’t be true.”’

Even before the shooting stopped, he remembers two officers diving over him. After the shooting, as onlookers began swarming, they pushed the crowd back.

Mason could see an injured woman nearby. He could hear someone calling his name.

He remembers the kindness of a total stranger, a woman named Skyler, letting him rest his head on her thigh as they waited for the ambulance.

The bullet hit him near the left hip. It ricocheted off the bone, forcing it up, where it ripped through the intestines, liver, colon, pancreas and the left lung.

The pain didn’t start until he was in the ambulance headed for Memorial University Medical Center. His stomach started hurting. He began coughing up blood.

His mother was working an off-duty security job at St. Joseph’s Hospital and met the ambulance.

His father, just back from a funeral in Detroit, got to Memorial by midnight.

“I think that was the scariest part,” the Rev. Mason said. “She saw him as they unloaded him, but we didn’t see Marquis again until 5:30 the next morning. So we sat in the lobby waiting that whole time.”

They were an empty time, Simmons recalls, those hours wondering whether your child would live or die.

As his mother, she is worried about the bullet still in his chest. As a law officer, she knows other people live with it, too.

“He’s not going to let that deter him from what he needs to do,” she said. “I think he realizes tomorrow is not promised, so you have to live right.”

Mason has times of difficulty. News coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting that killed 20 children and six adults was so upsetting he couldn’t watch.

He wants to reach out to the other fair shooting victims to see if they will meet.

“We went through the same thing,” he said. “We all went down the same night.”

He listens as his father shares his beliefs about what that bullet means, and he nods slightly in agreement.

“Some people call it fate,” the Rev. Mason said. “Because of who I am, I believe sometimes God will leave things in us, leave things on us, as a reminder of what we are called to do.

“We just don’t know who it’s going to wind up, but if we put our confidence and faith in God, he’s going to lead us in the path we need to be going.”


Information from: Savannah Morning News,


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