MANATEE — The medical bills are climbing into the hundreds of thousands, the pain remains intense and constant, but the will to get better is strong for shooting victim Chris Sharts.
His jaw is still wired shut and a tracheotomy has him breathing through an oxygen tube in his throat.
But Sharts, 32, says “the sky is the limit,” even as he remembers the terrible day his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, Jeremiah Edland, shot him in the face Dec. 28 in a domestic dispute, before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office investigators ruled the shooting an attempted murder-suicide because miraculously Sharts survived. Sharts and his parents, two sisters and brother believe in miracles now and talk about the love they have for each other a lot more these days.
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“There is a lot of hugging going on every day,” Sharts said through his clenched teeth. “We don’t leave the room anymore before hugging each other.”
But efforts to gut it out in the face of unthinkable carnage are not without extreme struggles.
Sharts has no health insurance, so the family is expecting to be buried under medical bills any day now. A benefit will be held today and a relief fund has been set up for donations, but it is going to be a long road to recovery for the Sharts family.
Of course, the fact that their son and brother lived remains the ultimate gift.
“It is a miracle,” said mother Darlene Sharts. “I thank God every day that he is here.”
Trouble boils over
Since the start of Sharts’ relationship with Swafford, Edland imposed fear that always seemed on the horizon. Sharts had never met Edland in person, but Swafford’s fear was real.
Sharts said the child Swafford and Edland had in common kept him in their lives.
On Dec. 4, things first exploded. Sharts said Swafford called him while he was out of town frantic saying Edland had fired a shotgun at her and threatened to commit suicide. Sharts called police to report the incident.
Bradenton Police officers found Swafford running on Manatee Avenue from Holmes Beach, where Edland lived in a condominium across the street from Manatee Public Beach.
She told police the same thing she told Sharts — that Edland had shot a gun at her. Holmes Beach Police came on the scene and began to search for Edland. But Swafford them clammed up.
“She told me the next day she didn’t want him arrested because she was afraid he would come after to her when he got out of jail,” Sharts said.
At midnight, a Holmes Beach officer found Edland at his condo. Officer Michael Walker questioned Edland about Swafford’s claims.
Edland admitted firing a round from a shotgun in his condo, but said the gun went off accidentally. He also admitted to threatening suicide, but said he wasn’t serious about it.
Edland said he “made a threat of doing harm to himself in the heat of the moment,” but told Walker he “never thought of actually doing harm to himself,” Walker’s police report states. He also told Walker that he never meant to put Swafford in danger.
Walker ended his investigation without an arrest, writing “he did not find any evidence that Edland would do harm to himself or anyone else.”
Darlene Sharts said she wonders everyday if Edland had been arrested that night, if things would have been different. Holmes Beach Police officials could not be reached for comment.
“You wonder when your child is almost dead if this could have been avoided,” she said.
Chris Sharts said he believes Edland made a “cry for help that night.” And after that Edland planned to shoot him.
“I believe it was premeditated. He decided then what he was going to do,” Sharts said.
“A parent’s worst nightmare”
Sharts said on Dec. 28, he came home to the duplex he shared with Swafford, in the 4100 block of 78th Street West, to a morning like any other. It was around 10:45 a.m. when chaos erupted.
Edland pulled up to their house and walked past Sharts standing in the front yard.
“He said ‘Is this the guy?’ to Melissa and walked right past me.”
Edland went in the house and began fighting with Swafford in the kitchen. Their daughter and Swafford’s young son were also in the room, according to Sharts.
“They were yelling at each other and that is when he pulled a gun,” Sharts said.
He put the 9mm handgun to Swafford’s stomach, Sharts said.
“I ran over and said to him, ‘Don’t do it man, please.’ Then he pointed the gun at me and shot me in the face.”
Sharts said Edland then shot himself in the head in front of the children.
“He stood over me and I thought he was going to finish me off,” said Sharts. “But he shot himself instead.”
The bullet shattered Sharts' jaw, came out his neck and buried into his shoulder. In shock, Sharts said he fell to the ground but got back up. He, Swafford and the kids got into a van and she drove him to the Blake Medical Center.
While driving, Swafford called Sharts’ mother. She and her husband, Robert, were shopping in Walmart when they took the call.
“Melissa was hysterical and told us what had happened. It was a parent’s worst nightmare,” Darlene Sharts said.
They ran from the store and to the hospital, as did Sharts’ sister Kelly.
Kelly Sharts said she got to the hospital just as nurses wheeled her brother past her to a helicopter waiting to airlift Sharts to Bayfront Medical Center, in St. Petersburg.
Seeing her brother in that condition was so devastating that Kelly Sharts says she doesn’t remember what happened next.
“I don’t know if I fell to my knees or what. Seeing them wheel him past me brought what happened to life in the worst way,” she said.
Sharts says he remembers everything up to when emergency personnel placed him on the helicopter.
Then he blacked out.
But bucking doctors' fears, Sharts would later wake up to the faces of his family, who for days had been celebrating the slightest movement he made in his hospital bed.
“Just seeing their faces it meant so much to me,” Sharts said.
The joy of seeing her brother awake made Kelly Sharts, 29, do something she hadn’t done since they were kids.
“I tickled him. I was just so happy,” she said.
The long road to recovery
The full concentration of Sharts and his family is getting him better. He and Swafford have separated as he makes the long journey to recovery.
“I need to focus on getting better right now,” he said.
Sharts returned to his parent’s Bradenton home on Jan. 21, where he needs 24-hour monitoring to make sure his breathing apparatus is functioning. Sharts’ brother, Steve, has also moved back in to take care of his brother during the day.
It is a painful process which includes regular trips to the emergency room when Sharts is in immense pain or something goes wrong with his recovery.
As Sharts fights for normalcy, his family is preparing for a sea of medical bills to come in which they expect to be around $200,000.
It is daunting to wonder how they are going foot the bills, they say, but one more step in Sharts recovery is today.
The Sharts are holding a benefit celebration at The Distillery Tavern to raise money for Sharts’ medical bills. There will be live bands, DJs, raffles and silent auctions.
“The Chris Sharts Fund” has also been established at Wachovia bank. Donations can be made to the fund at any Wachovia branch.
Sharts said he will pay his medical bills first and, if any money is left over, he wants to go to school to become a recording studio engineer.
“It has always been a passion of mine -- making music,” said Sharts. “The sky is the limit for me and I know now that I don’t have a single minute to waste.”