Brody Young spent nearly a month in a coma.
He approached the vehicle and found a man sleeping in the backseat. Young knocked on the window and asked for the man's name. “Michael Oher,” said the man, using the name of the NFL player who shot to fame after his life inspired the film The Blind Side. His real name, Young later discovered, was Lance Arellano.
Young started walking back to his truck to run the fake name and call for backup when suddenly, gunshots cut through the desert. Young, who is left-handed, took a bullet in his left arm. "My arm went lifeless and I turned and I just could see muzzle flash and him coming at me," he says.
Three more rounds hit Young in the back, one of which went through his bullet-resistant vest. "I went to the ground, and at that point the man was coming up on me and literally standing over me and just shooting me one round after the other. I think he ran out of bullets after he shot me nine times."
At one point, Young said, he had a realization: “You can either lay down and die or get up and fight. I got up and I did what training taught me to do." He staggered to the back of the truck to find cover as the shooter hid behind the truck’s open driver side door. "I saw him through my windows and I started firing rounds at him." Arellano shouted, "You got me," then retreated.
Then everything began to fade to black—until something remarkable happened. "Thoughts of my family, seeing the faces of my wife and kids — I wanted to be with them again, which gave me the strength to begin to roll slowly towards my truck," says Young.
After what seemed like an eternity, Young reached the front door of his truck and radioed for help. As he lay dying, he recalled an article he read that explained how certain breathing techniques can slow down your vitals. “I just had to focus on one breath to the next,” says Young.
The EMTs arrived and immediately began cutting off Young’s clothes and assessing the damage. Young said they later told him that a man his size has approximately 160 ounces of blood, and he had lost a significant amount of that. The EMTs later told him that when they opened the door to the ambulance, blood flowed out like a waterfall. Doctors say what kept Young from completely bleeding out was a blood clot that had formed in the pericardial sac of his heart, allowing some blood to stay in his body.
In all, Young had been shot a total of nine times: once in the upper left arm, three times in the back, once between the groin and femoral artery, once in his hip, once in his buttocks, once in the right femur, and once in his right arm below the elbow.
Young spent a month in the hospital in a coma. Once he awoke, he’d lost a significant amount of muscle and coordination, and couldn’t stand.
"But I healed pretty quickly and doctors said it was due to good health. I don't smoke, I don't drink, and prior to this incident, about 8 or 9 months before, I had this real strong premonition to get consistent [about] being physically fit," which primarily involved CrossFit and cardio.
Young was released from the hospital on Christmas Eve 2010, just six weeks after being shot. His first day back at Utah State Parks was February 28, 2011, where he worked for one hour and then went home to sleep for the rest of the day. "It was so fatiguing and I just hadn't built up my stamina." In addition to putting in hours at work, Young spent the next year in physical therapy. He says consistent stretching and exercising, including running three to four times a week and mountain biking, allowed him to stay mobile. “If I don't stay active, then I revert back to walking like an old man," he said. He’s since resumed his full duties as a full-time Utah State Park Ranger.
"Some think I'm crazy for going back," says Young. "I could have chosen to take a worker's comp check for the rest of my life and lived on the couch, but it just wasn't in me. There's a lot more to life."
But he still has reminders of all that he's been through. There are bullets and shrapnel scattered throughout his body, many of which are too dangerous to remove. One is in the lower left lobe of his lung. Another is in his spine; if it migrates, doctors are worried that Young could lose his mobility. He even has one near his heart, which he has to get checked out every six months. "It's a miracle in itself that my heart could handle that, and I definitely give credit to being fit and a lot of help from above."
As for Arellano, an unsuccessful manhunt ensued immediately after the attack. Five years later, the shooter’s remains were discovered in a cave near the Colorado River. The cause of death was likely Young’s return fire.
Young and his family say they’ve been able to put this incident behind them and have completely forgiven Arellano. Young says this experience has altered his perspective, making him place a special emphasis on his relationship with God, family, friends, and how he treats others. “Even when I’m taking a guy to jail, and he’s not fond of me, I'm going to give him the respect that maybe he doesn't deserve,” says Young. “If we can shake hands after, I feel like I’ve done my job.”
"My story isn’t about getting hit by 9 rounds. It’s about what I've learned from surviving," says Young. "Never give up. Never for a moment when I was lying there in the dirt in the dark did I think I was going to die. If you're still breathing, you can make it."
This story was produced in collaboration with the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism and Media Studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas