Amina Kocer-Bowman, the 9-year old who nearly died after she was accidentally shot at her Bremerton school, finally left Harborview Medical Center for home on Tuesday.
The little girl walked slowly through the lobby at Harborview Medical Center, holding on tightly to her mom with her left hand, clutching a round stuffed toy with her right hand.
The curious hanging around on Tuesday asked why all the TV cameras were there. They were told it was because the little girl who was accidentally shot by a handgun in a classmate’s backpack at that Bremerton elementary school was finally going home after six weeks.
Inevitably, the curious then said something like, “Oh, that was so tragic.”
Amina Kocer-Bowman, who turned 9 while in the hospital, mostly looked at the floor and sometimes nuzzled against the side of her mom, Teri Bowman.
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The shy third-grader had spent 41 days at Harborview, in an ordeal that included five surgeries, losing her gallbladder, part of her small intestine, a major vein and her entire blood volume. Amina still has a feeding tube in her stomach. She has a .45-caliber bullet permanently lodged next to her spine.
Dr. Eileen Bulger, her surgeon, had walked to the lobby beside Amina.
She is the director for Harborview’s Emergency Department and said she had done “hundreds” of bullet-wound surgeries: “I’ve been here 20 years.”
But this gunshot wound, said Bulger, “was as severe as you would get and still survive.”
The doctor said that in the next few weeks, Amina could begin to eat solid foods.
“She’s done very well. She’s very brave,” said Bulger. She said she expected that by Amina’s teen years, “I think everything will get back to normal.”
But, meanwhile, the little girl faces a long journey for tissues to heal and for therapy for her arm that also was struck by the bullet. Her parents say she won’t return to school this year.
Jeff Campiche is the Seattle attorney representing Amina and her family.
He said he expected the family to make a decision in about two months about any possible lawsuit. He said that besides dealing with her physical injuries, Amina “will need a different kind of strength to overcome the emotional pain … How is it that at that age she gets gunned down in a classroom?”
Although Harborview couldn’t provide a cost estimate on Amina’s stay, the Washington State Hospital Association said a 17-day hospital stay for “multiple significant trauma” that required an operation would cost around $200,000. Amina’s stay was 2.4 times longer than that average 17-day stay.
The dad said he has health insurance “through the military,” but that right now “our focus is on Amina.”
The 9-year-old boy who brought the gun to school has pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a gun, bringing a dangerous weapon to school and reckless endangerment.
He was sentenced March 6 in Kitsap County Juvenile Court to one year of probation, and agreed to testify against his mother, Jamie Lee Chaffin, 34, and her boyfriend, Douglas L. Bauer, 50. They have been charged with third-degree assault.
The boy said he obtained the loaded handgun days before the shooting during a visit to the home Chaffin and Bauer share.
In the Harborview lobby, standing right behind Amina, was her dad, John Bowman. He was wearing a UW Husky cap, as he is attending the university, majoring in social sciences. He served in the Navy in Iraq.
“I guess today is the third of April. Pretty special day,” he said. “Last year at this time I was coming home from Iraq and today we’re bringing Amina home.”
The dad also said about finally leaving Harborview, “It’s like bringing home a newborn baby. We’re just so happy to have her with us.”
The mom said the family and friends had been preparing their home for Amina’s return, including painting her bedroom purple, a color the girl is fond of.
“It’s a little purple palace,” said the dad.
Amina again nuzzled into her mom’s side. She looked oh-so-fragile, wearing basketball shorts and a gray hoodie emblazoned with the name of the basketball team for which she plays, the Tracyton Thunder Girls, named after her Bremerton neighborhood.
Amina missed out on the basketball-team photo; she was in the hospital. So at the request of the family, a commercial photographer inserted a previously taken photo of Amina into that photo. It became part of a “Friends of Amina” Facebook page, now with more than 1,870 “likes.”
As the family walked out the door at Harborview to their Ram 1500 pickup, many of the couple of dozen people in the lobby applauded.
In the lobby, Dr. Bulger needed to go to a meeting.
She was asked about those 200-some gunshot surgeries she’s done and what she had to say about guns in homes:
“I think people who own guns need to be responsible and lock them up so children can’t get access to them.”
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org