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Wentworth shooting victim copes with tragedy

January 11, 2011
WENTWORTH—Most here in rural New Hampshire tend to feel that they can take their security for granted. But as we are all too painfully aware, especially this week, sudden violence can strike at any moment, when we least expect it, in ways that we could never anticipate.

For one local woman, the unthinkable became all too real recently, when her troubled husband suddenly, and without much warning, became violent, turning a gun on her one morning at their home in Wentworth and coming near to killing her with a shot to the back that she never saw coming.

The bullet, one of many discharged from her husband's gun during an argument in her home just after Thanksgiving, penetrated through her shoulder, shattering bones and leaving fragments, including one that lodged in her aorta, threatening her life.

In retrospect, Lisa Sanborn says there were signs that things were not quite right with her husband in the months preceding the incident. She thought that she knew him pretty well. After all, they had been dating on an off for six years, and had gotten married last summer.

"I think there were signs that something was changing with him, but I didn't notice, or I didn't put it together that it could lead to what happened," said a poised and reflective Sanborn in an interview in Plymouth recently. "I am so busy with children and grandchildren and with my job that I just didn't see it clearly."

Sanborn says that she now understands that her husband's increasingly "bizarre" behaviors probably indicated the onset of some form of mental illness. Amongst other changes, he suddenly purchased his first firearm in October. He had never owned a gun before in his life.

Since the incident, she has struggled to cope with her horrific experience, undergoing two surgeries in the immediate aftermath of the shooting and working hard to put the pieces of her life back together. Fortunately, she has many people who love her, and the community has rallied to support her in her time of need.

Sanborn is an exceptional human being. Her boss, Sue Messinger of Sweet Kathy's in Plymouth, says she can't imagine getting along without her.

"Lisa has been working for me for two years," said Messinger. "Before she worked for me, she ran her own vintage clothing business on Ebay. Since she has come to Sweet Kathy's, she has been like a breath of fresh air. She is very talented and creative. I can give her an assignment, and I know she will just 'get it.' If I ask her to make a gift basket, I know that she will produce something that is aesthetically pleasing and sure to make the customer happy."

An experienced businesswoman, Sanborn nods in acknowledgement.

"I know that presentation is important …that's as much the reason that people come back to Sweet Kathy's as the good service they get or the product itself," she says.

She was recently promoted to store manager. She obviously loves her job, and she is really good at it.

She is beloved by the regular customers also.

"She can communicate with people of all different ages, from the college kids, to seniors, to families with little kids," said Messinger.

"They have nicknamed me 'Sweet Lisa,'" said Sanborn, laughing.

But since the shooting, Sanborn has not been able to work. She is deeply grateful to Messinger for keeping her job open while she is recovering, physically and emotionally, from the shooting. But Messinger says she is someone who simply cannot be replaced.

Sanborn is also deeply grateful for the support of emergency room personnel at Speare Memorial Hospital.

"They were so sweet and nice to me. They calmed me down," said Sanborn. " I think they saved my life."

She also knows she is fortunate to have received expert medical care at Dartmouth Hitchcock Hospital and the constant support from advocates at the Plymouth based Voices Against Violence (VAV), who have provided crisis counseling, accompaniment to the hospital, to the police, assistance with the legal system, and most importantly, perhaps, safety planning in the event that her husband should at some point be released from jail. He is currently incarcerated at the Grafton County Department of Corrections on $100,000 cash bail, but the prospect of his potential release is one of the frightening contingencies Sanborn may have to contend with in the months to come.

She is filing for divorce, but struggling with coming to grips with the fact that she was so badly hurt by someone she loved. She says at first, she was "a sniveling mess" and "falling apart," but that with help from trauma counselors at Genesis Behavioral Health, she is moving through her grieving process and getting stronger every day.

She speaks with warmth and affection and great feeling, as well as true strength and courage, as she describes the shooting and the ordeal she has been living in the aftermath. She seems to have nothing but gratitude for all the help she has received.

Her family and friends have come together to help support her. She was fortunate enough to be able to stay with her mother in her hometown of Franklin after being released from the hospital. She recently returned to her own home, which she loves, but which is still damaged from the shooting incident. The house is full of scary memories now, but Sanborn made the courageous decision to "face the demons," returning to the scene of the crime to reclaim her rightful place in the home she worked so hard to be able to create for herself.

Now, however, there is nothing but plywood over what was once a beautiful bay window in the front of the house. It was shattered during the shooting, and for the moment, at least, Sanborn doesn't have the money to replace it. Her walls are rifled with bullet holes. There are bullet holes in the furniture, including her living room couch. But without medical insurance, and with weeks of physical therapy to restore function in her shoulder and arm ahead of her so she can go back to work, she just doesn't have the resources to attend to repairs right now.

She says that victim's services has helped a great deal with many of the expenses she has incurred since the shooting, but there are also other things that she really needs that she simply can't afford, at least until she is able to go back to work.

In the meantime, Messinger and the folks as Sweet Kathy's have established a fund where community members can donate to help her with ongoing expenses until she gets back on her feet.

To boost her morale, the good folks at the Common Man Inn and Spa have stepped up to the plate to donate a massage, facial and complete makeover. She is ecstatic.

"I always cared so much about fashion and the way I looked," said Sanborn. "It is such an integral part of who you are. Aging is hard enough as it is without having something like this (the shooting) happen to you. Now, I feel like I have got to start my life all over again."

Anyone who has the privilege of spending some time talking to Sanborn will quickly come to the conclusion that she is the kind of person who will make the best of the terrible hand that she has been dealt. That is just the kind of person she is. She is incredibly strong, resourceful and resilient. Much more than an optimist, there is no question that she is a survivor.

"I came just a hair's breath away from losing my life," says Sanborn. "I am just grateful for being alive. I can't help but feel that I have been reborn. I think that there must be something ahead waiting for me, some purpose, some way that I am going to pay this forward."

It will be a great privilege and a pleasure to watch how she does that in the months and years ahead.

Anyone who would be interested in donating to the Lisa Sanborn Fund, or contributing supplies or labor to help her fix up her home, should contact Messinger at 536-4009.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
Alton School
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