Elizabeth has no recollection of the fraction of a second that altered her life forever, the night of Sept. 2, 2013, when a bullet fired from a 9 mm gun in the hands of a gang member ripped through her nostril and exited through the back of her head.
The 31-year-old caretaker was standing on the curb in front of a home in Santa Ana, waiting for a friend to pick her up.
Two gang members happened to notice Elizabeth as they were driving by.
They stopped in front of her. There was a conversation … then a gunshot.
“I don’t remember any of it,” said Elizabeth, now 35, and wife and mother of three, who was left partially paralyzed from the shooting.
Elizabeth connected with Crime Survivors, an Orange County nonprofit that provides support, resources and advocacy for crime victims and their families.
“I might not even be here if it wasn’t for their support,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve been through a lot.”
Elizabeth hopes to join others who’ve been victimized by violent crimes that will be participating in Crime Survivors’ 13th Annual Survive & Thrive 5K Run/Walk and Health & Safety Expo.
The event, which takes place April 8 at Mason Park in Irvine, serves as a fundraiser and a way to raise awareness of the issues faced by crime victims.
Crime Survivors was founded by Patricia Wenskunas, an advocate for victims of violent crime, who herself survived a brutal attack in her home on April 4, 2002.
Wenskunas was bound and beaten before jumping from a 12-foot-high balcony to the kitchen floor below to escape and get help.
The ordeal, followed by the tribulations of navigating a criminal justice system that seemed to offer little support for the crime victims, motivated Wenskunas into action.
In 2003, Wenskunas founded Crime Survivors, with emphasis on the word “survivors.”
Victims of violent crimes are not really victims at all, Wenskunas said.
“I don’t want another person to go through what I had to go through,” Wenskunas said. “I don’t want us to be seen as victims. I want to be defined as a survivor.”
Crime Survivors can guide survivors to service providers, offer legal help, provide case managers, funding for education and other resources.
“It gives us the courage to stand up for who we are and what we’ve been through,” Elizabeth said.
Crime Survivors also sponsors several holiday-themed events and banquets for survivors and family members.
Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes will be among law enforcement officials from throughout the region who plan to attend the Survive & Thrive event.
“By helping victims understand their rights and by directing them to the services they most need, we can play an integral role in empowering victims to not only survive, but thrive in their personal lives,” Barnes said of Crime Survivors.
Orange County police chiefs scheduled to attend the Survive & Thrive event include Charles Celano (Tustin), Robert Handy (Huntington Beach), Mike Hamel (Irvine) and Carlos Rojas (Santa Ana).
Survive & Thrive 5K Run/Walk, Health & Safety Expo
Live entertainment, free refreshments, carnival games, health screenings, survivors’ dove release
When: 7 a.m. to noon, April 8
Where: Mason Regional Park, 18712 University Dr., Irvine
Cost: $25 for pre-registration; children under 12, $20
For information and to register: surviveandthriverunwalk.org or crimesurvivors.com