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Staff Photo by Dan Henry / The Chattanooga Times Free Press- 1/7/16. Two-year-old Zoey Duncan plays with her wheelchair while at her family's apartment on Thursday, January 7, 2016. One year ago a gunman opened fire in a College Hill Courts apartment, killing a 20-year-old woman and wounding three others, including 1-year-old Zoey Duncan, who barely survived. Zoey was paralyzed from the waist down. A year later, she now gets around in a tiny toddler-sized pink wheelchair.
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Toddler paralyzed by bullet pushes forward one year after attack

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CHATTANOOGA HOMICIDES BY YEAR

2015: 30

2014: 27

2013: 19

2012: 24

2011: 25

2010: 20

2009: 11

2008: 20

2007: 16

2006: 19

2005: 23

2004: 16

2003: 24

2002: 21

2001: 26

Source: Chattanooga Police Department, Times Free Press archives

CHATTANOOGA GANG-RELATED SHOOTINGS

2015 - 72

2014 - 70

2013 - 78

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

CHATTANOOGA TOTAL SHOOTINGS

2015 - 137

2014 - 114

2013 - 123

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

HOMICIDE CLEARANCE RATES BY YEAR

Cases are usually considered “cleared” when a suspect is arrested for the crime.

2015 - 77 percent

2014 - 59 percent

2013 - 68 percent

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

Flat on her stomach, 2-year-old Zoey Duncan pushes her arms against the living room floor and lunges forward, dragging her paralyzed legs behind.

She scoots a few inches closer to her mother, Bianca Horton, and the tantalizing bottle of orange soda in her hands. Zoey grins and pushes off again, forging a path across the carpet.

Her feet get tangled under her, clunky things that twist at odd angles she can't feel. But she gets them straightened out and keeps on across the room.

It's been a year since a gunman opened fire in Horton's apartment on Jan. 7, 2015.

A year since bullets slammed into 18-year-old Marcell Christopher's chest. Into Horton's arm. Into Zoey's back. And into the heart of 20-year-old Talitha Bowman, who died there in the apartment.

A year since a Chattanooga police officer threw Zoey, wrapped in a blood-soaked towel, into the back of his patrol car and sped to the hospital without waiting for an ambulance. A year since the first surgery. Since the doctors told Horton that her then 1-year-old daughter was paralyzed from the chest down.

Give it a year, they said. If she's not walking by then, the paralysis is permanent.

Zoey's still not walking.

But she can get around — scooting across the floor or rolling about in a pink, toddler-sized wheelchair. Horton hasn't given up hope that Zoey will walk again. Sometimes, when she tickles Zoey's side, her daughter will look down at the spot, almost like she feels something.

"I pray that hopefully one day she'll be able to walk," Horton said. "But if not, we accept her as she is."

***

Zoey was the youngest person to be shot in Chattanooga during 2015.

The oldest shooting victim was 55, and the average victim was 25, according to a Times Free Press analysis.

About 82 percent of the year's shooting victims were black, and 88 percent were male. Sixteen percent of the year's shooting victims were white.

Overall, gun violence in Chattanooga went up during 2015.

There were 137 nonfatal and fatal shootings in the city last year, according to police, compared to 114 in 2014 and 123 in 2013.

And despite the city's ongoing Violence Reduction Initiative, which aims to reduce gang-related gun violence, more than half of the 2015 shootings — 56 percent — involved a gang member. In 2014, 63 percent of the year's shootings were gang-related, according to police.

The man arrested for shooting Zoey, 18-year-old Cortez Sims, is a validated gang member. He is also charged with Bowman's murder.

Chattanooga recorded 30 homicides in 2015 — the highest number in the last 15 years. Six happened during the unprecedented July 16 terrorist attack, when 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez opened fire on two military sites in Chattanooga.

Abdulazeez shot and killed four U.S. Marines and mortally wounded a Navy sailor before he was shot to death by Chattanooga police.

Without those six deaths, 2015's homicide count drops to 24 — below the 27 homicides recorded in 2014, but above the 19 recorded in 2013.

In several instances during 2015, police officers were close enough to the site of a shooting to either see or hear the incident as it happened, Chief Fred Fletcher said.

"We've gotten very, very good at putting police officers where data and intelligence tells us crime is going to happen," Fletcher said. "We have a great number of criminals who simply do not care."

On Jan. 1, 2015, 18-year-old Juan Boyd was shot and killed while sitting in a Waffle House parking lot on Brainerd Road in front of a police officer, who caught the killing on video that led to the suspect, Fletcher said.

"At the risk of sounding trite or evasive, the responsibility goes back on brazen criminality, on people who are more concerned with shooting someone than they are deterred by the thought of being caught and incarcerated," he said when asked about the rising numbers.

He said police are constantly tweaking and evaluating their efforts to stem violence. The department hired a new victim coordinator in 2015 to try to improve the way victims of crimes are treated by police and encourage victims to provide crucial information that can help police make arrests.

Fletcher also reduced the number of reports that patrol officers are required to write by 50 percent, he said.

"They were wasting their time sitting in front of a computer when I'd rather have them knocking on a door," Fletcher said. "It was consuming their time, when we want them out there interdicting crime, building relationships and arresting criminals."

***

In the early days after Zoey was paralyzed, she'd get frustrated when she couldn't run after her older siblings, Horton said.

"It took a toll on me, because I was like, 'Oh, wow, she realizes,'" Horton said Thursday. "I still feel that way, but she doesn't show any frustration anymore, now that she gets therapy."

As Zoey learns to talk and spell, she's also learning how to scoot around, how to climb in and out of her wheelchair. She went backwards the first time she tried out the chair, and hated it at the beginning. But now she zips around with ease.

Medical machines are stacked under bright posters that list the ABCs in Zoey's bedroom. Machines help her cough, help clear mucus out of her lungs. She uses a catheter to empty her bladder.

"There are just lots of machines, just in case," Horton said.

Horton has spent the year coming to grips with Zoey's situation, learning about insurance and treatments and therapy and home nursing. She's not sure what she'll tell Zoey when the child is old enough to ask why.

Horton's older kids, ages 10, 8 and 6, were home during the shooting, and they still ask about Bowman, Horton said. They don't talk about the shooting itself.

Watching Zoey grow and thrive is what gets Horton through it all.

"Just seeing Zoey happy," she said. "Seeing her happy."

But it's hard, really hard.

"I always have dreams that I wake up and Zoey isn't in bed," she said. "She's up running around."

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or sbradbury@timesfreepress.com with tips or story ideas. Follow @ShellyBradbury.

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