Bundled in a puffy winter coat and hauling a stuffed backpack, sophomore Khrystyna Trinchuk looks like any other Loyola student cutting through Damen Student Center on her way to class, avoiding the February cold.
Nothing about her would make anyone think that barely one month ago, the 19-year-old nursing major became the unintended target of a gang-related shooting outside her Rogers Park apartment, just blocks from Lake Shore Campus.
Trinchuk said that’s the goal.
Returning to her normal life was important for Trinchuk — the second Loyola student shot in just over a year. The other student, 23-year-old Mutahir Rauf, was killed in December 2014. Chicago Police Department (CPD) has not solved either crime.
But Trinchuk is determined to be more than a statistic in Chicago’s gun violence. She’s already back in her classes, but with a new perspective on the city’s crime and what she can do to stop it.
“I’m a survivor,” said Trinchuk. “I have a lot to prove.”
“WE’RE LOSING HER”
On Jan. 22, Trinchuk had just finished her first week of spring semester classes. She left her apartment in the 6700 block of North Clark Street with her roommate to get a snack from the convenience store downstairs. However, when the two got outside, they realized they forgot their wallets upstairs so they turned back toward the apartment.
That’s when Trinchuk heard a gunshot.
Her roommate screamed at her to run, but when Trinchuk tried to move she knew something was wrong.
“I was still standing in place and as soon as I started to take a step forward, I realize I can’t breathe and I feel really out of breath,” she said.
Trinchuk didn’t know it yet, but she’d been hit in the lower back by one of five bullets fired from a gun across the street. Her lungs felt like they were collapsing, but she couldn’t stop pacing between her door and the convenience store.
Gasping for breath, Trinchuk finally got out the words, “Go get help.”
Her roommate ran to a police car that happened to be down the block and brought an officer back. But Trinchuk was wearing a big winter coat and the bullet never left her body, so the officer couldn’t tell she was shot.
“He literally said to me, ‘Ma’am, you need to calm down. We are investigating a shooting. You need to stop hyperventilating. You’re hyperventilating, ma’am. You need to sit down,’” she said.
The entire time, Trinchuk said, it felt like she was screaming in her head, trying to get someone to understand something wasn’t right. The words she was able to get out were lost between her frantic breaths.
Finally, the officer radioed for an ambulance. Exhausted, Trinchuk laid on the sidewalk with her head hanging over the curb.
“I just gave up. I was like, ‘I don’t think I’m going to make it — this is it,’” she said.
It didn’t take long for the ambulance to arrive, and when it did the paramedic could tell something was wrong. He turned Trinchuk on her side and saw the wound.
Trinchuk overheard everything in the ambulance. Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s emergency room downtown was full, so they’d take her to Presence Saint Francis Hospital in Evanston.
Trinchuk’s mind focused on one thing: her mom. How would she know what happened? Trinchuk left her phone and ID in her apartment and worried that nobody would know who she was, let alone how to contact her mom. Toward the end of the ride, she gathered what energy she had left and shouted, “You have to call my mom.”
After that, she couldn’t keep her eyes open.
“In my ears, the rest of the ride, all I could hear was [the paramedic] repeating, ‘We’re losing her. We’re losing her. This is it — we’re losing her.’”
When she opened her eyes, Trinchuk said it was like a scene from a movie. Doctors and nurses ran alongside her stretcher shouting orders as white hospital lights streaked by above her.
“The last thing I remember was the surgeon saying, ‘OK, we are going to put you under. You’re going into surgery,’” Trinchuk said.
When she woke up the next morning in the ICU, Trinchuk said she remembered every detail of what happened the night before. She could feel the incision on her stomach where doctors removed the bullet and the wound on her back where she’d been hit. She knew she’d been shot in the back, but she didn’t know if the bullet had hit her spine and paralyzed her.
“The first thing I did was I moved each one of my fingers and then I moved each one of my toes. Then I just started crying,” she said. “After that, it felt like everything was fine. It just seemed to be OK.”
The doctor who came into the room told Trinchuk she was lucky to be alive. The bullet entered in her left lower back, hit her small and large intestines, stomach and ureter — which connects the kidney to the bladder — and ended up on her upper right side.
Trinchuk couldn’t talk because of tubes she had in her mouth, but she wrote out her reply: “You don’t even know.”
She laid awake in her bed that night, replaying every detail of the night before. But it wasn’t long before Trinchuk decided she’d had enough — she couldn’t let herself fixate on what happened.
So she made a plan.
“I just got into my own head and said, ‘Tomorrow you have to get up. You have to walk. You have to make sure you can walk normally to prove to yourself you’re going to be fine,’” she said. “The next day I said, ‘Mom, I have to get out of bed.’”
After one week in the hospital and one week at home, Trinchuk returned to school. On her first day back, Feb. 8, she shocked her professors by showing up and participating in her nursing lab. One professor told her there would be other labs for her to do, but Trinchuk said taking the rest of the semester off was never an option.
“I didn’t just stand to the side and watch everyone,” she said. “I made it a goal to make it, like, as if nothing happened and I was just in the class like everyone else was in the class. The past three weeks almost didn’t exist to me.”
Before the incident, Trinchuk never dropped a hard class or quit a demanding job. Returning to class from her near-death encounter wasn’t going to be any different, she said.
“It’s almost too easy to say, ‘I’m going to take a semester off and not come back to school,’” Trinchuk said. “Everyone would’ve understood and no one would have questioned me, but I cannot let myself do that. I told myself, ‘In two weeks I have to be back at school.’”
She’s now doing twice the work, making up what she missed and keeping up with the rest of the class. It’s tough, Trinchuk said, but now she’s in control — something that wasn’t the case on Jan. 22, when she was just in the wrong the place, at the wrong time.
“[The shooter] already took so much from me. I’m not going to let him take my education from me … I am in control of that now. I can’t let this one really sh*tty situation ruin the rest of my college career. I’m not going to let him take that away from me.”
Trinchuk said she owes her attitude to her mom, a single parent who Trinchuk describes as a “very determined, very independent woman.”
“I feel like if I didn’t have that mentality at school and in my normal life, I would’ve not even been here. Not just at school. I probably would’ve never made it.”
“THERE’S NO EVIDENCE”
More than one month later, Trinchuk’s case remains open and unsolved, but active. CPD said the case is an on-going investigation by Area North detectivesbut wouldn’t answer detailed questions or provide the names of the detectives working on the case.
On Feb. 22, exactly one month after the shooting, a detective working her case called Trinchuk as she was driving home from class. No charges had been filed, police didn’t have a suspect in custody, but an arrest had been made in a different case — and it could have a connection to her’s, Trinchuk relayed.
A man had been recently arrested near the scene of the Jan. 22 shooting and he had in his possession a 40-caliber handgun, which is the same type of gun used in the shooting that injured Trinchuk. The detective told Trinchuk this could be a coincidence — 40-calibers are fairly common — but he was now more determined than ever to find the shooter.
Trinchuk said she didn’t want to get excited, but this was the first update she had heard since the shooting. Without this, all that’s left of the crime are five shell casings and the bullet that hit Trinchuk. She said the detectives made it clear that wasn’t a lot to work with.
“You watch all these TV shows, and at the end of the day, you always get your day in court,” she said. “There’s always something left behind — a little piece of evidence that suddenly puts everything together. There is literally nothing. There is nothing. There’s the bullet that was in me. That provides literally no evidence at all. It’s never going to find the answer.”
Trinchuk said what bothers her the most is that she has no idea who the shooter was. His name, age, appearance and motive are all unknown. For all she knows, she could have already passed him on the street.
That’s the part, she said, that pisses her off.
“At the end of the day, there’s no evidence,” Trinchuk said. “That just sucks because my scars are evidence enough of what he did to me.”
A CHICAGO PROBLEM
So far in 2016, about 420 people have been shot, according to CPD records. About 95 of those people were killed, but nearly 330 survived their wounds. Trinchuk is one of them.
Trinchuk said she knew violence was a problem in Chicago, but now the problem is personal — all she can do is research gun violence statistics and follow crime stories.
The week after she was shot, Trinchuk went online to find the crime blotter from the day she was shot. She scrolled through the reports: Male, 25, South Loop. Male, 18, East Garfield Park. Female, 19, Rogers Park.
That was her. One of 14 people shot that day. She was just another nameless statistic. Everyone on that list was.
That almost made it worse, she said.
“I feel almost stuck. I feel like a victim of the whole cycle of this,” she explained. “I’m sure [the gunman is] not going to stop. I’m sure he’s still going to be in a gang and that gang is still going to be around. I’m sure they’re going to continue doing the things they’re doing.”
Trinchuk said Loyola students should be more aware of the violence in their city and in Rogers Park, and she suggested school administrators should remember that students don’t stay in the Loyola “bubble.”
Yet ultimately, she says, Chicago’s violence is a city problem — not a Loyola one.
“There’s no one answer. There’s no formula or step-by-step directions people can take to avoid this. It’s so out of control and I don’t even know how it got to this point,” she said. “It’s everywhere now. I don’t know where a safe area is.”
“I’M A SURVIVOR”
More than anything, Trinchuk said she’s surprisingly positive about what happened. If you had asked her how she thought she’d respond before the shooting, she’d never guess it would be like this.
Before the shooting, she didn’t talk about things that bothered her. Even after a breakup with a boyfriend, she shut down for two weeks and never talked about it again.
But with this, she said, it’s different.
“I really, really feel like as a survivor. I have a voice and I have the ability to reach people — to other survivors — that aren’t really well represented,” she said.
Trinchuk hasn’t been shy in using her voice, either. She’ll sit down and answer anyone’s questions, and she reached out to several anti-gun violence organizations to share her story.
She’s looked online for support groups, but said most are for grieving families who have lost someone to gun violence. The outlets for survivors are much more limited. Trinchuk said the “you lived, so it’s fine” attitude toward survivors needs to change.
“I cannot just sit here and watch this and pretend like I can’t do anything about it,” Trinchuk said. “I might not change the gang problem, but I could at least talk to or reach out to another person who survived or another innocent, untargeted victim that has kind of the same questions I did in the beginning.”
While she feels a connection to all victims of gun violence, Trinchuk said she feels a certain responsibility to Mutahir Rauf, who was walking on Albion Avenue with his brother when a robber fatally shot him.
Just like her, Rauf was a Loyola student in the wrong place, at the wrong time. But unlike Rauf, Trinchuk got the opportunity to get better.
Rauf was part of Loyola’s Post-Baccalaureate Pre-Health Program and in the process of applying to medical schools when he was killed. Rauf didn’t get to finish his education; Trinchuk said she has to complete hers for him.
“I want to do that for him because he never got the chance to graduate or to start a career or do any of the things he wanted to do,” she said.
For now, Trinchuk is commuting from her mom’s home in Vernon Hills, a northern suburb of Chicago about 45 minutes from Lake Shore Campus. When she moves back to Rogers Park after spring break, Trinchuk won’t be returning to her apartment on North Clark Street — she’ll be living in Loyola’s Fordham Hall. She’s still recovering and knows there could be hard days ahead, but Trinchuk is moving on.
“The scars are going to be on me forever, but I don’t want this to follow me and for me to be known as this,” she said. “I know my situation is a little extreme, but things that happen to you shouldn’t define you. As cliché as it sounds, I’m not going to let me be known as a victim. If anything, I’m not a victim — I’m a survivor.”