When Hilario Chapa went to a hospital to identify his sister, who was found shot in the head along with her girlfriend in a South Texas park, her face was unrecognizable. He and another sibling had to check her hands and feet and the rest of her body instead, in order to determine this was Mary Kristene Chapa, their sister.
But days after the brutal attack that left Kristene’s girlfriend, Mollie Olgin dead, the 18-year-old has opened her eyes and is making inquiries about her recovery, though she has to write on a clipboard and use sign language to communicate, and she has little sensation on the left side of her body, her brother said.
“I do believe she knows what’s happened, but she hasn’t chosen to talk (about) it on her own,” he said. “I’m under the impression that she doesn’t know” who did it.
“I think she’s pissed about what happened to her and I think she’s ready to get up and take off walking if she could,” he added.
The swelling from the gunshot has gone down, but it's unclear when she'll be able to leave the intensive care unit, said Chapa, 32, who also spoke to NBC Latino.
“All that we’ve gotten from the doctors is that she is making very … impressive progress,” he told msnbc.com. “It is rough … I can’t even imagine how the other family feels about this situation. It’s very tragic.”
Olgin, 19, and Chapa were found in a grassy area of the park by a couple Saturday morning with gunshot wounds to the head in Portland, Texas, Police Chief Randy Wright said. Olgin, a first-year university student living in Corpus Christi, died; Chapa, of Sinton, was alive and rushed to an area hospital.
Police have recovered a bullet casing from a large-caliber gun at the scene, leading investigators to believe the shootings occurred where the pair was found, but they haven’t found the weapon. Two witnesses said they heard what could have been gunshots or firecrackers just before midnight last Friday but did not report it at the time, he said.
In the community of Portland, the crime rate is low, with the last homicide occurring in 2010, Wright said. The police haven’t established a motive for the attack on the girls, who were planning to spend some time in the park that fateful Friday night before seeing a movie, Olgin’s father, Mario, told local television station kiiitv.com.
"Information from family and friends indicates that Mollie and Mary were engaged in a same-sex relationship. However, there is no current evidence to indicate the attacks were motivated by that relationship," the police chief said.
Wright told msnbc.com on Monday that: “It appears as if … this was not just a random attack, but that’s something that we really have to develop over time.”
The thought of an attack on his sister because she is gay is incomprehensible to Chapa. She is an “all-American kid,” who excels at her studies as well as at softball (she is a pitcher), and is well liked, he said.
“A lot of people want to speculate it was a hate crime. I just can’t comprehend why somebody would shoot two … 18 or 19 year old girls over a hate crime,” he said. “The brutality of it, you know, it’s just unimaginable.”
“I know that Texas has a lot of stereotypes … but South Texas really is a good place,” he added. “You don’t see a lot of hate crimes going on down here. You don’t hear about gay bashing or anything like that.”
Chapa didn’t know his sister was gay before the shootings, though he had thought she might be. He said his mother and other sister already knew. Friends say the pair had been going out since mid-February.
“Our family is very supportive,” he said. “We will take Kristina … for who she is and what she wanted to be, and we will support her in that.”
Chapa said his sister has maintained a stoic face and is fighting to get better. He said she was eagerly asking questions about her progress.
“She’s moving her right side very strongly,” he said. “But her left side, they haven’t used that word (paralysis), it’s too early to tell. She just hasn’t moved it. No one is saying she’s paralyzed.”
“I think it’s just too early to tell,” he added, noting that his parents believed she had experienced some sensation on her left side.
Kristene has written Mollie’s name down a few times, but Chapa said he worried about telling her she was killed, fearing it could cause a medical setback.
“I kind of am afraid. She is in such a fragile state right now,” he said.
The shooting has taken its toll on the family. The parents are maintaining a 24-hour vigil at the hospital and Chapa said he was initially a wreck.
Doctors have told them almost no one survives this kind of shooting, especially given the long period of time between being shot and found. “It’s an amazing thing,” he said.
The shooting has also hit the family hard financially. Chapa’s father had just started a new job in West Texas and had not yet enrolled for health insurance, so Kristene is without coverage. They are seeking donations to help them pay for the medical care, which doesn’t yet have an end in sight. (Donations can be made here)
The family has yet to meet with Olgin’s family, though they hope to soon and provide them support as well, said Chapa, who had never met Mollie.
Chapa has taken time off work from his job as an equipment cleaner at the Corpus Christi Army Depot to focus on his sister’s recovery. During these tough days, he said it is Kristene who gives him the encouragement to make it through.
“I can honestly say that just watching my sister progress, watching her come back to us, and … seeing her strength, it gives me strength,” he said. “There’s nothing that anybody can tell you … all you can really do is just hang onto hope and just watching her gives me hope.”
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