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Security guard shot in back a year ago continues recovery, search for justice

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FEDERAL WAY, Wash. -- Last year on the night before Thanksgiving, a young security guard was shot in the back outside a bar. When he woke up in the hospital the next morning, he soon realized his life would never be the same.

When people like Damario Johnson live through something so awful, they are often seen as lucky to be alive. While that may be true, it's also not that simple.

This Thanksgiving, Johnson and his family are thankful he still has his life and that he's come a long way in his recovery in the last year. However, his attacker is still out there, and what he lives with every day is heart-wrenching.

Johnson wasn't supposed to be at Cafe Arizona on the night of the shooting. Because he worked as a security guard, a friend told him last minute he could make a quick $100 if he helped work the door.

He did his job: broke up some fights, kept everyone safe. As the night wrapped up, Damario was standing in the parking lot when suddenly a bullet tore through his back.

"When the doctor came in and told us that his spinal cord was severed it was devastating," Johnson's mother Sue Ellen Johnson said. "He was multi-talented in sports. That was his life, and in a moment it was gone. For the doctor to say he'll never walk again I was like 'Oh my God, this can't be happening.'"

In the year since the shooting, Damario has learned to overcome challenges he never asked for.

"I tried to hold on to who I used to be, and as much as I want to be that person and go back to that, I'm not him anymore," Johnson said. "So I have to get rid of that feeling."

Damario says he's confident the physical part of his battle will fall into place. It's the mental aspect that's the true struggle.

"I haven't been happy, so there's a lot of people who've been around who've done a lot for me but I've been so angry that I've overlooked that, so I've pushed a lot of people away," he said.

While Damario is confident he's on his way to overcoming huge hurdles, he feels it's important to be transparent that the journey is filled with low points.

"Every day is like a giant question mark, honestly, and it's just a lot of alone time," he said. "There were times when I literally attempted to take my own life, but of course like I said from the outside looking in, you're not gonna see all that."

He's lost a lot of independence. He can't play basketball with his friends, can't even get in his car and drive somewhere.

"I have to be comfortable with being by myself," he said.

And there are larger looming questions.

"Would I be able to provide? Would I be able to have kids?"

Through all of this, Damario and loved ones have learned to accept the things you cannot change, and work hard to change what you can, like feeling lonely.

Damario saved a puppy's life, and now has a loyal best friend. Remarkably, he's also working toward his goal of being part of a peer support group at Harborview. He feels it's important to be an advocate for others in his shoes.

It would be a game-changer in terms of giving him a focus, something to get him out of the house. He has also sought counseling for depression.

"You gotta be real to help somebody else going through their situation," he said. "I don't think if I'm sitting here sugar coating what I'm going through, it doesn't benefit me and it doesn't benefit anybody else."

As Damario works toward his mental well-being, he knows being happy and driven will be key in accomplishing his number one goal.

"I'm still fighting to walk again. Until I stop breathing that's gonna be something that's a goal of mine, whether they tell you it's not gonna happen or not."

Damario and his mother say doctors initially told him he'd never be able to walk again. But within time, they say the prognosis changed. and he was told he had a 30 to 40 percent chance of walking.

To Damario, that number means it's possible, which to him means he will do it.

Damario and Sue Ellen are hoping to raise enough money to get Damario's car modified so he could eventually drive again, which would be crucial once he starts working again.

Crime Stoppers of Puget Sound is offering a cash reward of up to $1,000 for a tip that leads to an arrest in the shooting. Submit an anonymous tip at www.P3Tips.com or call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

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