The first thing Shetamia Taylor remembers was the pops.
The unmistakable, yet unfamiliar, sound of gunshots.
Hundreds of them.
Her four sons, who had joined her Thursday night in downtown Dallas for a peaceful protest that suddenly turned deadly, had scattered into the wind as they dodged bullets.
Then she remembers looking into the face of a "tall, hefty, white, bald" police officer. He was yelling at her.
"I heard the gunshots. Then a pause," Taylor said Sunday. "Then a second round of shots."
In that second barrage of bullets, the police officer was hit.
"As he was going down, he said, ‘He has a gun! Run!’" Taylor said, weeping. "He told us to run."
Flanked by the four sons whom she almost lost her life to protect, Taylor sat for the first time to talk in detail about the harrowing night that saw five police officers lose their lives amid a barrage of bullets delivered by a sniper upset about the recent spate of black men dying at the hands of police.
In all, 12 police officers were shot, as were two civilians. Taylor was shot in the leg and is expected to make a full recovery.
She is recovering at Baylor University Medical Center in downtown Dallas.
She spoke Sunday afternoon surrounded by her family and the doctors who operated on her. She wore a hospital gown, but her right leg was propped up.
Dr. Alan Jones, the trauma physician who operated on Taylor, said she was shot through the back of the calf and the bullet shattered her shin.
"Miss Taylor has a very severe injury," Jones said. "She has a very bad fracture of the top of her tibia just below the knee." Jones said he inserted a plate in Taylor’s leg, and her recovery could take up to three months.
That was the least of Taylor’s worries.
"I’m OK. Thank God," Taylor said. "My kids are OK. We are all alive."
A peaceful march, then chaos
For Taylor, 38, even prior to getting shot, it had been a tough week.
Like many Americans, Taylor watched in horror Tuesday night as footage of Alton Sterling’s death in Baton Rouge, La., began to surface. And like many black Americans, it only got worse when it was repeated on Wednesday with the killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota.
Taylor and her family moved to Dallas nine years ago from St. Paul, where Castile attended high school. Taylor's family members don’t recall ever meeting him. But the events were still hitting home.
"I talked to my sons about everything that was happening and even the things that are not being televised," Taylor said. "Being the mother of five black men, I have always sat them down and told them about how to comply with the police and how to be respectful. If you are ever stopped by the police, tell them your name and age and tell them to contact your parents."
By Thursday, she heard about a march in downtown Dallas to bring attention to police brutality, in light of the killings of Sterling and Castile.
"I asked them if they wanted to go," Taylor said. "I wanted to show them that there could be a peaceful march. And it was very peaceful and informative."
Taylor piled her boys — Jermar, 12; Jajuan, 14; Andrew, 15; and Kavion, 18 — into the car and headed to downtown Dallas, which none of them knew very well.
After a few hours, Taylor realized that it was time to go home. The crowd was getting big, she had to be at work at 7 a.m. and she wanted to beat the traffic. As they looked for their car, more people were arriving.
They arrived at a blocked-off street corner.
"We heard a shot and we all looked and we didn’t know what it was," Taylor said. "It was so close to the Fourth of July, that maybe it could have been fireworks?"
But that second round of fire, and the shooting of the police officer in front of her, confirmed her fears — gunshots.
They ran. The boys, young and fast, outpaced their mother.
"I wanted to make sure they were in front of me," Taylor said. "I was running behind them."
In an instant and amid the chaos and the pops, it seemed as if the boys had vanished in front of her.
Taylor then felt the bullet enter her leg. Still running, she reached out. She grabbed Andrew and dragged him down to the street between cars. She lay on top of him.
Another police officer came and asked if anyone was hit. Andrew said no. He didn’t know his mother had been shot. Taylor whispered as to not scare her already terrified son.
Andrew popped his head up and Taylor pushed it back down.
"That is when he saw my leg," Taylor said. "I said, ‘I’m OK, Andrew. Pray for your brothers, because we don’t know where they are.’ He is crying and I am like calm down. I had to reassure him and I was in a way reassuring myself."
Realizing that Taylor had been shot, several officers jumped on top of her and Andrew.
But the terror was far from over. Taylor said she saw a second police officer get shot in front of her. Taylor pauses and fights back tears again.
"There were hundreds of rounds," Taylor said. "I had never heard anything like that before. It was just shots all around us. Those officers had no regard for their own lives. They surrounded me and my son. They saved my life. They saved my son’s life."
The police were finally able to get Taylor into a bullet-ridden police car to try to get her to the hospital.
Taylor and Andrew were on their way to Baylor.
God only knew where Jermar, Jajuan and Kavion were.
Two sons find safety
While Taylor was being rushed to surgery, the brothers worked to find each other.
In the chaos, Kavion, the oldest, snatched Jermar, the youngest. At one point, they were pinned against a garage door, panicking and terrified.
"We were just running around downtown Dallas," Kavion said.
They ended up locked in a hotel that was on lockdown. His phone dead, Kavion borrowed one, but he couldn’t remember anyone’s phone number. Jermar was crying. Finally Kavion found a way to charge his phone.
He called his mother. Andrew picked up the phone. He was freaking out.
"Andrew told me they were in the hospital and I said why you in the hospital? He said that mom had been shot," Kavion said. "I tried to stay calm for the sake of my little brother."
Andrew peeked into his mother’s room and calmly told her that Kavion and Jermar were OK.
"Just the praise," Taylor said. "I just prayed the whole time. I was still praying for everybody. For my sons to be safe. For the officers to be safe."
But they still didn’t know where Jajuan was.
The kindness of strangers
Taylor and her boys rarely go to downtown Dallas. In the chaos, it became a labyrinth and Jajuan was trapped in it.
Lost and scared, Jajuan ran into Angie Wisner, who was trying to escape with her family. They had never seen each other before, but Jajuan asked if he could go with them — anywhere, but there.
"He told me that he had lost his mom and that he was scared," said Wisner, who visited the hospital Sunday afternoon to meet Taylor for the first time and embrace Jajuan again.
The group somehow made it to a stranger’s apartment that sheltered them. Jajuan had lost his phone, so he borrowed a phone to download Snapchat. He reached his cousin, who told him his mom had been shot.
"He just folded over," Wisner said, crying. "He was shaking and holding me. I told him we don’t know where she was shot. Hopefully, it was just in the leg."
Sitting next to her at the hospital Sunday, Taylor had never heard Wisner’s version of the story. She grabbed her hand. Taylor said while she feared for Jajuan’s safety, she prayed for someone like Wisner.
Wisner cries again.
"I am not a hero. I am a mother," said Wisner, a mental health technician and mother of three. "Any mother would have done that for somebody’s child. To know that you are what somebody prayed for is indescribable.
Grateful to brave officers
Back at the hospital Thursday, Andrew told his mother that Jajuan was safe — easing her mind, if ever so briefly.
"While I was in that room, I saw an officer tell another officer that one didn’t make it," Taylor said. "I’m celebrating my kids being alive and I am listening to them telling each other how an officer didn’t make it. Of course, I am thankful that my babies are OK, but somebody’s dad and somebody’s husband isn’t."
Taylor said she didn’t know if either of the two police officers she witnessed get shot died, but she said she is forever grateful.
"Thank you for the officers who were there for me and my son who watched over us," Taylor said. "Thank you. I’m sorry this happened. But they were the heroes."
She said she doesn’t regret going to the rally and would do it again. In fact, she said she will go to more rallies as they come up, because for her and her boys, it was never about protesting the police, but rather bringing attention to the recent tragedies.
None of her boys have ever had an encounter with police. Jermar has always wanted to be a police officer and that hasn’t changed.
"This hasn’t changed my opinion of police at all," said Taylor, noting that all of the officers who shielded her were white. "I have always held police officers in high regard. I never had an issue with the police, and this made my admiration for them greater."
Taylor said she is no hero or an activist. She said she will leave larger issues like gun control and Black Lives Matter to politicians and people with louder voices than hers.
She said she is just a parent eager to get back home and back to work as a customer service representative.
"That was not an experience I ever thought I would go through," Taylor said. "But I am glad I did. It makes me a better person. It makes my sons better people. They now have a clear understanding of how the world can be. And how some people can be selfish — who don’t take into consideration the lives of others and the physical and emotional turmoil that we will have from here on out."
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