Transcending life’s tragedies
After enduring the effects and aftershocks of gun violence three times, Todd Allen Smith shares his story of survival
Summer 2019 Edition
Few people can say they have experienced a shooting, and even fewer can say that they have experienced two shootings.
But Todd Allen Smith (g’02) experienced — and survived — two shootings.
And in between those horrific events, a close friend of his was murdered.
Smith, who graduated from KU with his master’s in journalism, always knew that he wanted to become a writer. He enjoyed reading and hoped to write fictional books.Yet given the tragedies that have occurred in his life, Smith said he couldn’t write any other book until he shared his own story first.
“If I was to write a book, I had to write this book first,” Smith said.“It’s three major points of my life that changed my life forever. I couldn’t just ignore what happened to me.”
As a result, “Murder, Romance, and Two Shootings” was published in 2018. He said the book accurately recounts his personal experiences, but he did fictionalize minor details, such as names and places. In this memoir, Smith recounted details of both shootings, the death of his friend and eventually finding the love of his life.
“All those tragedies changed my life. Each one [left] me a little different each time,” Smith said.
The first shooting happened when Smith was just out of college in the summer of 1997. Smith traveled to the East Coast looking for jobs. He was out walking one evening to get a Slurpee from a 7-Eleven when two men attempted to rob him. Smith thought he could escape, but ended up with a bullet lodged in his leg.
Four years later, one of Smith’s closest friends was shot and killed in what Smith called a “gay bashing” in Kansas City, Missouri. The crime remains unsolved to this day. The killing took an emotional toll on Smith, who also was in a serious relationship at the time that “couldn’t survive the tragedy because it was just too much.”
Then the second shooting came in 2008. But this time, Smith wasn’t alone.
As a St. Louis Suburban Journals reporter, he was covering a Kirkwood City Council meeting on Feb. 7, 2008. After looking through the agenda, Smith thought it was going to be like any ordinary meeting until Charles “Cookie” Thornton opened fire. Smith was shot in the hand.
Six people died in that tragedy, including the Kirkwood mayor. Smith was the only person who was shot to survive.
“The first [shooting] was mentally a lot. It’s sort of unexpected to be shot like that,” Smith said.“And the second time takes a lot out of you because you have a hard time trusting people. You’re never completely the same.”
The romance and recovery aspects, however, are just as crucial to Smith’s story as the tragedies that preceded it.
Physical recovery was extensive for both shootings, but he was determined to walk and use his hand again. “I’m not going to let somebody take that away from me. I just had the drive to make it work again. I just didn’t want to go through life without a leg or hand,” Smith said.
Smith also had the love and support of his then-boyfriend, David Kaplan. The second shooting tested their relationship, but it eventually brought them closer together. When Smith was recovering in the hospital after the second shooting, he proposed to Kaplan. Later, they adopted a son who turned 4 earlier this year.
In fact, Smith and his husband have been traveling across Europe this past spring with their son. Kaplan has been doing sabbatical work in Germany, so Smith took the opportunity to document their international adventures on his blog, That Away Dad.
Excited to share this new and more optimistic chapter of his life, Smith also plans to write a book based on his family’s European experiences with the release planned for spring of 2020.
Even though Smith’s life was drastically changed after these tragedies, he doesn’t let them negatively affect his life. These events have shaped Smith into the person he is today, and he tries to focus on the positives and moving forward.
“I turned to family and friends that helped me through each time. The book is about the importance of having a relationship with loving people and how they can help you through struggles in your life,” Smith said.
– Angel Tran is a May 2019 graduate from Wichita, Kansas