He remembers everything about it: The burning in his chest as the bullet hit an inch from his heart. The smell of gunpowder. Hearing one of the attackers mutter, “He’s not dead. He’s not dead. Shoot him again to see.”
The future Olympian knew that if he flinched, he would die.
As the second bullet ripped into his right forearm, Kitchens didn’t move a muscle.
And he survived.
“I’m supposed to be here,” Kitchens said, sitting in the lobby of the U.S. team hotel before heading to London, where he will compete in the long jump. He folded and unfolded his arms and played with the pillows as he relived the shooting.
Kitchens, 29, lifted his shirt to reveal the scar on his chest, so close to his heart.
“The angle was just a little off,” he explained.
Now that he’s one of the top long jumpers in America and about to make his Olympic debut, it’s hard for him to fathom the road he’s traveled to get here.
But he’s come to appreciate every step.
“It’s taught me how strong I really was, to endure that and come out and reach the heights I’ve reached,” he said.
On that day nearly 17 years ago, Kitchens was getting ready to be taken to school by a friend of the family, Charles “Lyndon” Fubler. That’s when an acquaintance, Mark Lorenzo Squires, and another man pulled up and started an argument.
Squires began chasing Fubler and shot the Augusta College soccer player in the head.
Kitchens, who was a seventh-grader
at Morgan Road Middle School at the time, heard the gunshot and raced into the room to help Fubler.
Kitchens saw his older sister, Sheila, get shot in the neck and collapse, leaving her paralyzed.
Barely coherent and thinking the attackers had left the house, the wounded Kitchens got up and went for help. That’s when he was cornered by the two men, who were surprised to see he was still alive. That’s when one of them urged the other to shoot Kitchens again.
So Kitchens did the only thing he could think of – close his eyes, fall back against the refrigerator and play dead, waiting to be shot again.
The gun fired. He was hit. He remained perfectly still.
Convinced Kitchens was dead, the attackers fled. He crawled next door for help and everyone survived.
In addition to his chest and arm wounds, Kitchens also had a collapsed lung. He spent two months in rehabilitation, and was back training on the track in three.
While one attacker was caught, Squires remained on the loose.
For nearly three years, Kitchens thought he saw him lurking in the shadows, waiting for him.
“The likelihood of him coming back were pretty slim,” said Kitchens, whose family relocated after the incident. “Still, I didn’t want to be too outgoing, because I didn’t want to attract attention. Maybe he was looking.”
Squires was eventually arrested in North Carolina on murder charges in connection with another crime. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
Testifying against Squires was healing for Kitchens.
“I faced him,” Kitchens said. “I faced the biggest thing that’s hindered me in my life.
“I took that part of it and applied it to all my life. I can face any obstacle, anything that tries to destroy me. Just like I faced him on the witness stand, stared him dead in the eye.”
Kitchens paused in his tale.
“I think he was shocked to see all of us alive. He shot Lyndon in the head. He expected Lyndon to be dead. He shot me pretty much in my heart, thought I was dead,” Kitchens said. “He tried to kill my sister as well. When he saw us, you could see the shock in his face.”
Kitchens graduated from Glenn Hills High School and went on to become a standout at Clemson University.
“I was strong enough to handle what happened,” he said. “This can definitely inspire someone.”
Kitchens is inspired by another story on the U.S. track team: the comeback of 400-meter runner Bryshon Nellum, who was shot in the legs while leaving a party in 2008. A high-school track standout, Nellum was told he might never run competitively again.
Nellum went on to compete at Southern California and is now at the London Olympics.
“What a great story,” Kitchens said. “I think when something like that happens, I don’t care if it happened to you or someone else, you can always find inspiration. I know I have.”