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Thinking of her daughter's "beautiful smile" helped a victim of the Kalamazoo, Michigan, shooting spree get through week after week of painful recovery in the hospital.
Tiana Carruthers, 25, was one of two survivors of the Feb. 20 shootings, which killed six people. Speaking publicly Thursday for the first time since she sustained four gunshot wounds — while shielding a group of children — she said, "It's been a long road for me."
"I have days where I'm crying and I'm feeling so down," Carruthers, in a wheelchair with her arm in a sling, said during a press conference Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo. "It's hard for my child to see that."
Carruthers was watching her daughter and a group of other children at a playground outside an apartment complex when the gunman shot her.
Now back home after weeks in the hospital, Carruthers said she's trying to be strong for her child. She didn't specify how old her daughter is.
"Just being 25 and being in a wheelchair, just trying to walk — I put a smile on my face every day. I'm trying to be the same person that I was, but that is entirely impossible," she said.
Still, "it feels good to sleep in my own bed, and be around my daughter to see her beautiful smile," she added.
She thanked the community for the "overwhelming" support, and said daughter got her through her toughest times.
"She's so special. I love her. Just her smile, it gets me through a day," she said.
Authorities say the accused gunman, Uber car service driver Jason Dalton, shot Carruthers outside an apartment complex, then fired more shots outside a Cracker Barrel restaurant and a car dealership in between picking up Uber fares.
The only other survivor of the rampage was 14-year-old Abigail Kopf, who was shot in the head in the Cracker Barrel parking lot. She is still in the hospital but expected to return home soon, according to NBC affiliate WOOD-TV.
Healing has been a struggle "mentally, physically, emotionally," Carruthers said.
"My arm has been completely reconstructed," she said. "I still have a bullet lodged into my liver. Most of my fingers were broken. Both of my thigh bones — there's metal in both of them."
Nonetheless, Carruthers said she doesn't harbor anger toward the shooter and she is "working on forgiving" him.
"For some reason, I do not hate him," she said. "Sometimes I get angry with myself because I don't, and I don't know if anyone could ever understand that."
"I feel like I'm a child at zero months right now."
Police say Dalton told investigators he started shooting after a "devil figure" appeared on his Uber app. He has been charged with 18 counts, including six counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder.
Doctors initially thought the other survivor, Abigail, was brain-dead, and were planning on harvesting her organs when she gave a squeeze of her mother's hand.
Carruthers called Abigail a "miracle" on Thursday and said, "She has a whole lot of life to live."
Carruthers added she often wonders why this happened, but said it's been a "life-changing" experience.
"I feel like I'm a child at zero months right now," she continued. "I'm living life like it's my last."