After being laid off from his job in London, Tommy returned to Derry to visit his family before heading back to England to find more work. He was asleep when four masked men broke into his sister’s house, where he was staying.
“When I woke up there was a guy standing at the bottom of the stairs and he just decided to open fire without a word. He just pointed a gun and started shooting at me. He hit me twice in the stomach, once in the inner right thigh and that knocked me back. I actually found later on that I smashed my pelvis, and then he decided to shoot me twice again.”
The injuries Thomas sustained were extensive, leaving him with limited mobility, severe damage to his urinary tract and reproductive organs.
Thomas talks about becoming an innocent victim and his experiences of looking for justice. He recalls little from the immediate aftermath of the shooting, “I can’t remember anything from A&E, I was in a coma for six weeks and I was in hospital for three and a half months through several operations.”
The medical profession’s initial prognosis was that it would be extremely unlikely for Thomas to walk again. Through intense physiotherapy and force of will he was able to gain limited independent mobility. At the beginning of his treatment, he had to get used to life in a wheelchair.
“I didn’t cope very well with that. I took it very badly, but I also said to myself if they say I’m not going to walk I may as well try. I got up and tried. I fell a few times but I got up again and I tried. I’m one of those guys who doesn’t like people telling me ‘no you can’t do this’.”
Thomas’s suffering was not just physical, his outlook on society and the people surrounding him changed. “I’ve lost trust in a vast amount of people. I actually blame the atmosphere in this city. I think they have the people so paranoid, so confused, I don’t think they really trust anybody.”
Thomas admits that his attack left him afraid to leave his home. “I’m very nervous, I don’t leave the house in the evenings, I don’t even go into the town unless I have a medical appointment. I will not enter that city and I will not enter the streets of Derry at night at all.”
It took Thomas nine months after he was shot to get back into a bed to sleep. “I’ve got that fear factor of me getting into and bed and I get up again and I’m faced with this masked man with a gun shooting at me. I know it’s not going to happen but it’s still subconsciously stuck in my head.”
Thomas found support through Mind Yourself and Wave Trauma Centre. “They are fantastic, fantastic help I’ve had from them. They’ve helped me immensely with empowerment to get me back together and move on.”
Six months after the shooting, Thomas applied for compensation. He is still to hear about his claim. “I wasn’t actually going to even claim, I just wanted to leave. I thought I was going to get up and get better and go back to my work and as time goes on you realise that you’re not going to get back to work, things have totally changed. Your life is different.”
Thomas wants to share his experiences as a counsellor with those who went through similar tragedies in their lives.
“I’m going to try and turn it around and help others. I know what it’s like for people not understanding, people not helping you, because they’ve not seen the mental health side of it. They don’t understand what this young guy or girl has gone through, what their parents have gone through, because they’ve been shot. It is a lot of strain on the family itself and not just the victim.”
This interview was supported by the WAVE Trauma Centre, University of Surrey and the Community Relations Council.