Shot at 12, Kitchens now an Olympian

George Kitchens holds his hands above his head during a USA track and field team open training session in preparation for the 2012 London Summer Olympics, in Birmingham, England, on July 25, 2012. He'll compete in the long jump. /AP Photo/Jon Super

BIRMINGHAM, England — George Kitchens was only 12 on the terrible day in November 1995 when he was shot along with his sister and a friend in his Georgia home.

He remembers everything about it: The burning in his chest as the bullet hit an inch from his heart. The acrid smell of gunpowder. Hearing one of the attackers mutter, “He’s not dead. He’s not dead. Shoot him again to see.”

The future Olympian knew that if he flinched, he would die.

As the second bullet ripped into his right forearm, Kitchens didn’t move a muscle.

And he survived.

“I’m supposed to be here,” Kitchens said, sitting in the lobby of the U.S. team hotel before leaving for London, where he will compete in the long jump. He folded and unfolded his arms and played with the pillows as he relived the shooting.

Kitchens, 29, lifted his shirt to reveal the scar on his chest, so close to his heart.

“The angle was just a little off,” he explained.

He then stuck out his right arm to display the other scar, recalling how he braced himself for the second shot and told himself not to move, which he believes saved his life. If he would have flinched even a little, he has no doubt another bullet awaited from the two attackers who had invaded his Augusta, Ga., home.

“I just remember saying to myself, ‘Don’t flinch. Don’t flinch.’ I don’t remember the amount of time that went by or how long I was down, but they finally left. That’s when I got back up, went next door and got help.”

Now that he’s one of the top long jumpers in America and about to make his Olympic debut, it’s hard for him to fathom the road he’s traveled to get here.

But he’s come to appreciate every step “because it could’ve been taken away from me at an early age,” he said. “It taught me perseverance. It taught me any situation isn’t as tough as you think it is. It’s taught me how strong I really was, to endure that and come out and reach the heights I’ve reached.”

On that day nearly 17 years ago, Kitchens was getting ready to be taken to school by a friend of the family, Charles “Lyndon” Fubler. That’s when an acquaintance, Mark Lorenzo Squires, and another man pulled up and started an argument.

From there, it quickly escalated.

Squires began chasing Fubler around the house and shot the college soccer player in the head.

Kitchens heard the gunshot and raced into the room to assist Fubler.

“It was just my natural reaction,” Kitchens said. “I remember Lorenzo coming around the corner. He aimed a gun at me and pulled the trigger. I fell against the wall in our kitchen.”

Kitchens saw his older sister, Sheila, get shot in the neck and collapse, leaving her paralyzed.

Barely coherent and thinking the attackers had left the house, the wounded Kitchens got up and went for help. That’s when he was cornered by the two men, who were surprised to see he was still alive. That’s when one of them urged the other to shoot Kitchens again.

So Kitchens did the only thing he could think of — close his eyes, fall back against the refrigerator and play dead, waiting to be shot again.

The gun fired. He was hit. He remained perfectly still.

Convinced Kitchens was dead, the attackers fled. He then crawled next door for help, and all the wounded survived the shootings.

In addition to his chest and arm wounds, Kitchens also had a collapsed lung. He spent two months in rehabilitation, and was back training on the track in three.

Only the drama wasn’t over. While one of the attackers was eventually caught, Squires remained on the loose.

For nearly three years, Kitchens thought he saw him lurking in the shadows or hiding behind trees, waiting for him.

“The likelihood of him coming back were pretty slim,” said Kitchens, whose family relocated after the incident. “Still, I didn’t want to be too outgoing, because I didn’t want to attract attention. Maybe he was looking.”

Squires was eventually arrested in North Carolina on murder charges in connection with another crime. He was convicted and sentenced to death.

Being able to testify against Squires was healing for Kitchens.

“I faced him,” Kitchens said. “I faced the biggest thing that’s hindered me in my life.

“I took that part of it and applied it to all my life. I can face any obstacle, anything that tries to destroy me. Just like I faced him on the witness stand, stared him dead in the eye.”

Kitchens paused in his tale.

“I think he was shocked to see all of us alive. He shot Lyndon in the head. He expected Lyndon to be dead. He shot me pretty much in my heart, thought I was dead,” Kitchens said. “He tried to kill my sister as well. When he saw us, you could see the shock in his face.”

Kitchens went on to become a standout at Clemson University.

“I was strong enough to handle what happened,” he said. “This can definitely inspire someone.”

Kitchens is inspired by another story on the U.S. track team: the comeback of 400-meter runner Bryshon Nellum, who was shot in the legs while leaving a party in 2008. A high-school track standout, Nellum was told he might never run competitively again.

Nellum went on to compete at Southern California and is now at the London Olympics.

“What a great story,” Kitchens said. “I think when something like that happens, I don’t care if it happened to you or someone else, you can always find inspiration. I know I have.”

— Associated Press