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Shotgun victim's parents speak out

PUBLISHED: 19:00 28 April 2003 | UPDATED: 13:48 03 March 2010

CHRISTINE and Tony Coulson were just feet away from their teenage daughter when she was shot in the shoulder, in what they describe as a 'tragic course of events.

CHRISTINE and Tony Coulson were just feet away from their teenage daughter when she was shot in the shoulder, in what they describe as a 'tragic course of events.'

Mr and Mrs Coulson, who were beside their daughter, today recalled those anxious seconds after the crack of the gun pierced the air.

Michelle was 19 when her boyfriend of just under a year, Alexander Powell, had a gun which fired as it was dropped, while at his father's house in Stoney Road, Grundisburgh.

The exact circumstances of that day seven months ago, today remain clouded, but that split second has changed the family's life forever.

Mr Coulson said: "Michelle was in the hallway and I was on the doorstep beside her. There was a bang. I looked at Michelle and her face was full of shock - I thought she was just reacting to the sound of the bang.

"But then she started to slide against the wall. I took hold of her and there was some blood coming from her shoulder. She said she had been shot, and it was only then that I realised what had happened."

Michelle's mother, a nurse at Ipswich Hospital with more than 30 years experience, was outside and went to her when she heard the shot.

She said: "Michelle was conscious and talking. She couldn't breathe properly and she said she couldn't feel her legs.

"I kept trying to reassure her that everything would be ok. That's what you do as a mother."

Mrs Coulson recalls her daughter's voice changing, and said that Michelle knew she had to keep talking.

"She told the paramedics that she was a qualified lifeguard, and knew what they were doing," said Mrs Coulson with a smile.

Her dad added: "That's what Michelle's like. She is fighter and a battler. She has been absolutely brilliant. She has stuck to what she had been told to do, and always has a smile on her face."

Mrs Coulson added: "Obviously she has down days, but she is always positive and is determined to make the best of a bad job."

They are also full of praise for son Charles, 18, who has been a tower of strength to Michelle.

"Charles has been fantastic. He has also suffered in all this and has remained very strong," said Mrs Coulson, of Chatsworth Drive, Ipswich.

The bullet penetrated through Michelle's shoulder and neck, causing a complete lesion through her spinal cord, resulting in her being confined for life in a wheelchair. Michelle is tetrapalegic, which means she has limited use of her shoulders, arms and fingers, and no movement in her legs.

She spent the first 13 days in the Intensive Care Unit at Ipswich Hospital before being transferred to the specialist spinal unit at the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital, Stanmore, in Middlesex.

Her first six weeks there were spent wearing a 'halo' - a head frame bolted to the scalp.

Michelle's has had a tough time in hospital. No sooner does she take a couple of steps forward, it is followed by three steps back.

"Michelle's skin is very soft and vulnerable to tearing, it's just her genetic make-up, but it has caused a few setbacks," said Mrs Couslon.

Michelle is able to feed herself with her right hand but is unable to cut food.

"She can't hold shiny glasses, as she can't grip them, as she doesn't have much power in her hands," said her mum.

"All the nursing care Michelle has received has been brilliant. Everyone has bent over backwards to help her," said Mr Coulson.

She travels up to Stanmore twice a week to see Michelle.

"I had 800 miles on my car when I first started going - now I have 12,500.

"Work have been very understanding and my colleagues have been absolutely brilliant," said Mrs Coulson.

Mr Coulson, a petrol tanker driver for Sucklings, added that both employers' have been a tower of support.

He said: "We have received unexpected kindness from so many people - they come out of the woodwork to help."

Michelle, a former Copleston High School and Suffolk College pupil, will never return to the family home as she will need a specially-adapted home and a 24-hour carer.

"Michelle doesn't want to be a drain on society," said her mother.

" She wants to be as independent as possible. She is determined to get behind the wheel of a car again and work for a living.

"I can see Michelle campaigning for disabled rights. She hates seeing an injustice and will go into battle if she feels something is not right."

At 19, Michelle was just beginning her adult life, and planning a career as a paramedic.

Yet despite her injuries, she is not prepared to let the events of that fateful day destroy her life. She has not given up at fulfilling her dream and is hoping to be some kind of medical advisor.

Michelle's other passion is swimming. She had been a full time lifeguard at Crown Pools since July last year, and a casual lifeguard since the age of 16. She is also a trainee lifesaving instructor at Deben Lifesaving Club and a member of the St John's Ambulance, and hopes to continue her instructing from the poolside in the future.

In July, Michelle will be presented with an award from the Royal Lifesaving Society, at the Guildhall in London, for her services.

She is expected to remain in hospital for at least another three months, and a trust fund is soon to be set up in her name.

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Last month , Powell, 22, of Stoney Road Grundisburgh pleaded guilty at Bury St Edmunds Crown Court to a charge of affray on September 12 last year.

At a previous hearing he admitted possessing a handgun without a firearm certificate on the same date. The prosecution offered no evidence on a charge of possessing a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence, and a 'not guilty' verdict was ordered.

Powell is due to be sentenced on May 7.

WEBLINK:www.rnoh-stanmore.org.uk

N Michelle Coulson's family will be raising money to help her prepare for life when she comes out of hospital. If you would like to make a donation or give the proceeds of a fundraising event to Michelle then make out a cheque payable to the Michelle Coulson Appeal, c/o Geraldine Thompson, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN.


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