Volume 22, Number 18 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 11 - 17, 2009
By Albert Amateau
Calvin Gibson had an anniversary of sorts on July 24 — not a celebration exactly — but it marked an event that could have been his last.
It was a year since a disturbed resident of the building on E. Seventh St. where he has lived for 16 years shot him six times.
“It was my good fortune not to die,” he told two visitors last week. He often laughs when he talks about the near-fatal incident: “I don’t know why, I guess it’s because I’m past it. And to tell the truth, I must have some selective amnesia because I know a lot of the circumstances only because people told me — police and neighbors,” he said.
After a month in Bellevue Hospital undergoing more operations than he likes to remember and five months at Coler-Goldwater hospital on Roosevelt Island learning to get back on his feet, Gibson, 52, still uses crutches to get up and down to and from his fourth-floor apartment between Avenues C and D.
Another grim reminder of that terrible Thursday morning last year is a 9-millimeter bullet fragment lodged in his lower left jaw.
“In time, I want it taken out,” he said. “I don’t know how I can volunteer to have another operation, but it might give me trouble later,” he added. “I can balance without crutches for short walks and in a month I want to be able to walk with a cane,” he said.
At Coler-Goldwater, specialists gave him the option of learning to use a wheelchair or crutches. He tried them both and decided on crutches.
“I got some negative reactions using a wheelchair on the island,” he said. “People would look and draw back as if I was dirty. So I said ‘Give me those crutches.’ ”
Gibson has nothing but praise for the rehabilitation at Coler-Goldwater but he was eager to leave the place.
“It’s a nursing home and a sanitarium full of very old people who were depressed, people with Alzheimer’s, people screaming in the middle of the night,” he recalled. “After five months I had to go. They told me I had to be able to walk up four flights, and I had to show them I was able to do it.”
On the day he was shot, he left home at 7:30 a.m. because he had to take some books to his son, 15, a summer-school student at LaSalle Academy, at Second St. and Third Ave., who had phoned him from a nearby store.
“I came back home about 8 or 8:30 and went to the store for coffee to bring to my brother, who was asleep in my apartment,” he said. “He was staying with me while his apartment was being fixed up.”
Before Gibson got to the iron gate in front of his stoop, the son of a downstairs neighbor came from between parked cars across the street screaming and shooting.
“I got shot in the hip, it locked and I couldn’t move. But he kept on shooting so I made myself fall,” said Gibson. “The shooting stopped. Then he started shooting again at the guy in the bodega next door.
“I’ve known him since he was a teenager; he must be almost 30 now,” Gibson said of the shooter. “I think I remember him leaning over my body. I played dead. They told me he tossed his gun into the back of his van and then went to the police station [Housing Authority P.S.A. 4 at Eighth St. and Avenue C] and gave himself up.”
Gibson said the suspect, Jesus Ortiz, had six prior arrests, including two for menacing another tenant in the building.
“When he was a kid, other teenagers would manipulate him and get him into trouble for things they did,” he recalled. “He was going to a clinic on St. Mark’s Place before the shooting last year. He’s being held in a sanitarium — I don’t know where, but if he comes back I don’t want to be here. This is not healthy.”
The building in which Gibson lives is one of 11 in the East Village that UHAB, the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board, has been renovating since 2002, Gibson said.
“It was supposed to have been done in 2004 and we were supposed to have been a co-op by then,” he said. “But the contractors have been incompetent. They’ve done more damage than renovation. It’s a disaster but we’re stuck with it,” said Gibson, who was a freelance demolition worker before the shooting.
Unable to work at his trade, he subsists on a disability check of $761 per month. In July, a year after the shooting, the New York State Crime Victims Board awarded Gibson $270 and authorized his use of food stamps.
He would have had to file a notice of claim 90 days after the injury if he wanted to claim damages from the city, but he was in Coler-Goldwater at the time and missed the chance. He said friends told him that Ortiz had bought the gun online from craigslist.
“I need an advocate to help me,” Gibson said. “I don’t want to go on welfare. My parents and my grandparents never went that route and neither will I.
“I want to get some cash together and open a business,” he added.
Patti Kelly, owner of Kelly Glass Studio, a stained-glass studio, on E. Eighth St., said Gibson’s friends are planning a benefit for him on Nov. 16.
“He’s a great friend and neighbor and we’re so glad he’s still with us,” Kelly said.