Note: Cooper Suddath was released Monday from the hospital. Suites at Station Exchange is working on a fundraiser, LemonAid for Cooper.
At 2:37 p.m. this past Wednesday I received a phone call that one of my staff members had been shot. I did what most people who receive a phone call like that do: I said, "say that again."
I had just finished having a late lunch in Savannah with one of my best friends, Sebastian "Papa" Orsini. Papa is 98 years young and every month he invites his friends and relatives to have lunch with him at Johnny Harris’s restaurant on Victory Drive. I was sitting across from Father Frank Ziemkiewicz, headmaster of Benedictine Military School, when I received the call. Papa is the oldest living graduate of BC and Father Frank, as he is fondly known, has a standing invitation. As I abruptly left the restaurant, I knew Papa and Father Frank would be praying for this young man.
The next 25 minutes were filled with prayers and phone calls as I made my way to Richmond Hill. I did not know the seriousness of his injuries until I saw the Lifestar helicopter lift off from the parking lot of The Suites At Station Exchange. Cooper Suddath, the young employee shot, was in that helicopter, fighting for another day.
Cooper is our evening cook and was assisting with clean-up from lunch that Wednesday. He had been talking to another co-worker about the awesome lemonade that he had made earlier in the day. Cooper is a kidder and has an infectious smile. Once you meet him you can’t help but like him. At work he is always willing and ready to help a resident, no matter what the situation may be.
I’ve known Cooper since he was a young teenager volunteering to help in the kitchen at Magnolia Manor.
At 2:35 p.m. Cooper noticed a couple of suspicious men walking around his truck that was parked in the lot adjacent to the community.
He watched as they found a way to enter his truck and immediately ran to the parking lot to confront the men. As the men retreated to their car -- which was reportedly stolen -- another man inside of the car reached out with a gun in his hand and fired once, hitting Cooper in the elbow. At the time he didn’t realize the .45 caliber bullet traveled through his left elbow and then entered into his torso at an angle and remained lodged in the right side of his abdomen.
He was approximately 2 feet from the gun when it was fired.
Cooper ran back to the door leading into the kitchen and called 911.
Staff members of "The Suites" began to offer Cooper first aid and finished talking with the 911 operator as Cooper was treated for his injuries while sitting in an office chair. The on-staff nurse and 2 additional staff members stayed by his side; putting pressure on his wounds to control the bleeding while treating him for shock until the EMS arrived.
Two more staff members secured the building and kept residents and other staff members safe. Everything (except for the actual shooting) was caught on the building’s security cameras. It was a harrowing experience for everyone.
The perpetrators, five in all, were later captured after leading police on a high-speed chase from Richmond Hill to Hardeeville, South Carolina.
All of the men were from Savannah. Richmond Hill Chief of Police Billy Reynolds, indicated this was a random act of violence and highly uncommon for this area.
It was a sad comment regarding our society that early evening as I entered into the emergency room and asked if I could see the family of the boy who was shot.
The nurse looked up from her computer and asked, "Which one?"
That evening at the hospital I couldn’t help but notice everyone that had gathered in support of Cooper and his family. A community of friends and loved ones were present and comforting one another; although anxious as well to learn the outcome of his surgeries.
The surgeries went very well and Cooper’s condition continues to improve. At the time of this writing he is expected to be home soon; and is extremely thankful for all the well-wishes and prayers said on his behalf.
Now it’s time for healing. Part of healing is acknowledging everyone that played an important role in helping Cooper through this tragic ordeal.
The staff at Station Exchange who first responded did an amazing job. Bryan County EMS and the Richmond Hill Police Department performed as usual – exceptional.
And the fact that collaborative efforts were made across county and state lines to capture the culprits was outstanding.
The other part of healing always involves the question, "What can we do to help?" The staff at The Suites At Station Exchange has come up with a small fundraising idea to help Cooper with his bills while he is out of work. As I said earlier, Cooper makes a great lemonade beverage for all our residents. So we thought it would be nice if we came to his "aid" during this time. If you would like to donate any spare change you might have to the "Lemon Aid for Cooper" project, just look for the box with a lemon and Cooper’s name on it. I’m sure he and his family would greatly appreciate it.
As a caring community of wonderful people, making lemon "AID" out of a sour situation is what we do best!
Rich DeLong is the Executive Director of The Suites at Station Exchange.
Contact him at 912-531-7867 or visit him on the web at www.thesuitesatstationexchange.com