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Video: Clerk survives gunshot to head

TODAY contributor
updated 9/8/2008 9:48:20 AM ET 2008-09-08T13:48:20

Heather Brammer smiled and even laughed, and if there was a nervous quality to it, it was understandable. If you’d been shot execution-style in the back of the head just two weeks ago, you’d still be a little nervous, too.

“I’m feeling pretty good, actually — a lot better than two weeks ago,” the 23-year-old miracle woman told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira Monday in New York.

On Friday, Aug. 22, Brammer was working the morning shift at City Laundry and Cleaners in Manning, S.C., when a man came in who said he wanted to rent a tuxedo. Less than an hour later he returned with a gun. After cleaning out the registers and store safe, the robber ordered her into the back of the store and told her to lay down face-first on the floor. He told her he wouldn’t hurt her.

Then he shot her in the back of the head.

The robber left her for dead, but Brammer wasn’t. Through a remarkable stroke of providence, the bullet hit the base of her skull, where the bone is thickest. X-rays show the bullet flattened against fractured bone — a millimeter or two shy of penetrating her brain.

“I think she’s very lucky to be alive,” said the doctor who treated her.

Brammer thinks it’s more than luck — it’s a miracle.

“I don’t know any other way to describe it,” she told Vieira.

‘Like a normal guy’
Brammer had worked at the laundry all through high school. After graduating from the University of South Carolina and getting married, she returned to work at the store while she considered what sort of career to pursue.

The man who came in the store just after 10:30 a.m. on Aug. 22 seemed a nice person, she said.

“He came in like a normal guy,” Brammer recalled. “He was very nice, very polite — came in on his cell phone, talking. We had just started to rent tuxedoes out. He said he needed one for a wedding. No red flags. He picked one out, left the store.”

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The man agreed to come back after 1 p.m. to get measured for the tux — but only 45 minutes later, at 11:30, he returned.

“I wondered to myself why he came back so early,” Brammer said.

The man first said he had changed his mind about which tuxedo to rent. Then he pulled a handgun and fired into the ceiling.

“He takes me to the register. He said, ‘If you set anything off, I’ll kill you. Don’t do anything that’s going to surprise me,’ ” Brammer said. “So I gave him everything that I had, and he said, ‘OK, come with me to the back of the store.’ ”

Keeping her cool
Vieira asked why Brammer decided to try to stay calm and obey the gunman rather than attempt to flee. Her husband, Alex, at her side, the young woman inhaled deeply as she relived the terrifying moment.

“What I’d always been told in a situation like that: ‘Stay calm, do what they ask, because you just don’t know what they’re thinking,’ ” Brammer told Vieira. “So I tried my best to stay calm to keep him calm — just to make sure that he wouldn’t do anything that was crazy.

This dramatic X-ray shows the robber's bullet lodged in the thickest part of Heather Brammer’s skull.

“But it didn’t turn out that way,” she said.

Brammer blacked out when the bullet slammed into her skull, violently jarring her brain. When she came to, she thought she’d been out just 15 or 20 seconds, but it had really been nearly 20 minutes.

Her arms and legs were numb. The bullet had hit closest to her visual cortex, and her vision was blurred. She tried to call 911 on her cell phone, but couldn’t see well enough to push the tiny numbers. So she crawled to the front of the store where the business phone was.

Before she got to the phone, a woman came into the store and saw Brammer on the floor. Fearing the gunman might still be in the store, the woman left to call police. Brammer didn’t know the woman had gone for help. She managed to get the store phone off the counter and dialed 911 herself.

‘He shot me’
Brammer can be heard crying in the dramatic recording as she tells a female dispatcher what had happened.

“He shot me in the back of the head,” she says. “I can’t see right. I can’t see straight.”

“Stay with me, baby,” the dispatcher says. “Stay with me.”

Brammer remained on the phone as police and ambulance services were dispatched. “Calm down,” the dispatcher told her soothingly. “I know it’s exciting. Bless your heart.”

Help arrived within two minutes. “I was really happy to see them,” Brammer said.

Meanwhile, two of Brammer’s relatives happened to drive past the laundry. They saw the emergency vehicles and recognized Brammer being wheeled out. Police wouldn’t let them get close enough to learn her condition, but they saw blood and immediately phoned Brammer’s husband, Alex, who is finishing his studies in pharmacy school and was 90 minutes away.

Alex described the call from his brother-in-law: “ ‘I don’t know how to tell you this other than to freak you out. But you need to come home.’ ”

An unforgettable face
Not knowing what had happened, Alex Brammer kept calling desperately as he sped back to Manning. After about 10 minutes, his brother-in-law had more information.

Police have released this composite sketch of the robber who shot Heather Brammer.

“I learned she’d actually been shot. I was not aware of that initially,” Alex Brammer told Vieira. “Although they told me she was able to talk to them, [that] she was alive, it was hard to imagine she was shot in the head. All kinds of things ran through my mind.”

At the hospital, Alex learned that his wife would be OK. She was released six days later, and her vision has since returned almost to normal. Doctors expect a full recovery.

Once she was able, Brammer provided police with a description of the suspected gunman that was used to produce a sketch. “It’s kind of hard to forget that face,” she said as the picture was displayed to TODAY viewers.

She also was able to describe the man’s car: a green, four-door Mitsubishi Galant, which she remembered because of its color.

Manning police have yet to track down the suspect, who, they warn, is to be considered very dangerous. Alex Brammer said he and Heather appeared on TODAY hoping that someone would recognize the man in the sketch and contact police.

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