Angela Gabriel recited the name and purpose of each pill as they were handed to her where she lay, slightly elevated, in her hospital bed. One for indigestion, one for pain, one an antibiotic, she said, waiting for confirmation from the night nurse at Our Lady of the Lake hospital.
The nurse helped Gabriel if she hesitated before a pill's pharmaceutical name, each one supposed to help the 41-year-old recover from the 10 gunshots that struck her torso and right arm. Her boyfriend is jailed in the shooting, which peppered Gabriel's body with bullets as she took a bath one February morning.
She took two more pills, laughing at one she said reminded her of Pacman, then looked puzzled at the last one.
"The one you love the most," the nurse reminded her. It was a muscle relaxer to ease the spasms through Gabriel's back.
Gabriel gently placed the last pill into her mouth with her left hand, her only limb she can still completely control since the gunshots paralyzed her from the chest down.
"That's it," the nurse said.
Seven pills in total. Gabriel took one last sip from the large mug of ice-cold water, then smiled.
"I was not supposed to come out of that emergency room," Gabriel, a mother of four and real estate agent, said a few weeks after the shooting. One shot missed her heart by millimeters. She has shrapnel through her back. Two bullets are still lodged in her body, one grazed her spleen.
"I can easily lay here and say, 'I'm paralyzed; I'm never going to walk.' But I don't. I have life," Gabriel said. "I can still hug my children. I'm still going."
'No hate in my heart'
In late March, Gabriel moved to Touro Rehabilitation Center in New Orleans. She can sit up and is on the go in her motorized wheelchair. She spends most mornings in physical and occupational therapy. She's been outside three times in her wheelchair.
"I refuse to be your average physical therapy client," Gabriel said last week. "Every day it gets a little bit easier, every day."
But Gabriel said that doesn't mean it's easy to think about how the man she loved, the man who is the father of her two youngest children, the man who told her explicitly this wouldn't happen, did this to her.
Carl Thompson Jr., 46, was arrested the day Gabriel was shot while she was sitting in her bathtub. He called the police from her house and turned himself in, Baton Rouge police said that day. He was charged last week with attempted second-degree murder, according to the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney's Office. His attorney did not respond to messages.
A 41-year-old mother is paralyzed from the chest down after she was shot multiple times by h…
The couple had been together for almost six years, but Gabriel said by the end of February, when she was shot, their relationship was struggling.
Thompson had been over that morning to watch their youngest son, a 1-year-old with Down syndrome, as she needed to get to an appointment.
"I just wanted our family," Gabriel said. "Never in a million years did I think he would unholster his gun."
Then after a long pause, she said, "I have no hate in my heart for him."
That morning sitting in the bathtub, bleeding from her gunshot wounds, she said she called on God to save her — and he did. After that, she felt no pain. Everything became clear. She remembers talking to the doctors as they worked to save her life. And then she made it through.
“I know a lot of people won’t agree with me (but) I forgive him,” Gabriel said, referring to Thompson. “He gave me a relationship with God that I could have never gotten on my own. He’s also given me an opportunity to see how many people love me and care for me. He showed me that I can truly be inspirational to people. He put me in a situation where I can really help others."
In her first weeks at the hospital in Baton Rouge, she had more than 200 people show up to visit her, some she hadn't seen in years, some she had never met. Her friends said there was often only space to stand while they were there. Nurses automatically directed anyone wandering the halls to her room.
"As for the visitors (in New Orleans), I’m not running seven and 10 at once," Gabriel said. "I generally I have about four or five people at a time."
But the best visit came from all her children, her 22-year-old son, Jordan; 9-year-old daughter, Julianna; 7-year-old son, Cameron; and baby Grayson, she said. When they can't visit, Gabriel said she FaceTimes them almost every day while they stay with relatives.
"My children are my passion," Gabriel said. She said she's competing with her infant to learn to walk. "I'm going to walk again."
Coworker and friend Angella Lawrence came almost every day to see Gabriel when she was in the hospital in Baton Rouge, and she has driven down multiple times to New Orleans.
"It's inspiring; it makes you take a look at yourself, re-evaluate where you are as an individual," Lawrence said. "This woman has this mindset, this spirit; shame on me if I think any other way. ... She motivates me."
But beyond inspiring others, Gabriel says she also has other plans, specifically to help eradicate domestic violence.
"When you think about it, I'm not supposed to be here," Gabriel said. "I have the blessing of God to be here; most women (who've been in my situation) don't."
'A crisis on our hands'
In Louisiana, domestic violence turned deadly is not rare. The state has the second-highest rate of female victims murdered by men in a single victim-offender incidents, according to a 2016 report from the Violence Policy Center. The rate of these killings in Louisiana is behind only Alaska.
"We have a crisis on our hands," said Twahna Harris, founder of the Butterfly Society, a Baton Rouge domestic violence advocacy organization.
The shooting that injured Gabriel came on the heels of three killings that Baton Rouge law enforcement have concluded were domestic.
In November, 30-year-old April Peck was fatally shot by her live-in boyfriend while they were driving and thrown from his car onto Essen Lane, authorities have said. The next month, Tangela Detiege, 33, was shot and killed by her ex-boyfriend and father of her two children, authorities have said. On Jan. 1, 29-year-old Asha Davis was fatally shot in her apartment following what investigators said they believe was a domestic dispute between her and the man they arrested. Then, in February, Gabriel miraculously survived the shots that hit her.
Gabriel said she remembers discussing the tragedy of Detiege with her then-boyfriend.
"I told him, 'I don’t want that to be our story,' and he said, 'That’s not going to be us,' ” Gabriel said. "And here it is, two months later, not even a full two months: us. (But) I’m living."
When she looks back on their relationship, Gabriel said there was often verbal abuse, but Thompson became physical with her only once. He choked her in November, she said, adding that should have been a sign that she was in real danger.
"If your abuser chokes you, that is the No. 1 sign that they will kill you," Gabriel said, citing a finding that she learned after she was shot. "I was unaware that that was the No. 1 sign."
The chances an intimate partner attempts homicide increases sevenfold once a perpetrator has tried to strangle a victim, according to the Training Institute on Strangulation Prevention.
"This is not about someone losing their temper and anger management; it's more about power and control," said East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III. "It's a dangerous combination. A lot of folks do not really understand there are warning signs."
Gabriel wants women to understand and know those signs, to learn from her and, more importantly, to listen to her. She said she knows how hard it is to weigh leaving your abuser against separating your family, leaving your home, moving your children, being financially alone.
"Wouldn’t you rather change your children's life by a move than by visiting you at a cemetery?" Gabriel asked. "We all deserve real love, not to be abused, mistreated. If you are in a relationship with any type of abuse, there is someone to help you."
Harris visited Gabriel in the hospital in early February and said she looks forward to Gabriel joining their cause in educating people about domestic abuse and supporting victims.
"She's a blessing," Harris said. "She is the face of the survivor of domestic violence; she's a warrior. ... She has calling in her life that her story can help someone else."
Harris said she wants victims to know there is always help, whether it's reaching out to her and her volunteers, or seeking help from law enforcement, Family Services of Greater Baton Rouge or other domestic abuse organizations.
While choking is a key indicator an abuser will try to kill their partner, Harris said other signs of abuse are isolation of the victim, intimidation, controlling finances and playing mind games. When somebody seeks help for domestic violence, she said to never ask, "Why didn't you leave?" but instead ask, "What can I do to help?"
The District Attorney's Office is working on initiatives to address the problem, from a hospital intervention program to reach out to victims when they get medical help to a pilot program to work with offenders in jail.
"These cases are just 100 percent preventable," Moore said. "My hope for (Gabriel) is that she can become a messenger, one of the faces for Baton Rouge to tell her story, (so) other people can see and seek counsel to avoid being placed in that position."