At 3 in the morning, Jason Beyer woke to the sound of clinking bottles.
His bedroom door opened. A flashlight shone. He woke his wife.
They tried to cooperate. Take what you want, they told the pair of intruders.
But the men weren’t satisfied with robbing the house. They made it clear they were going to hurt his wife before they left. So unarmed, with no time to think, Beyer lunged at them.
For this, he took a bullet in his back. His wife escaped to a neighbor and called 911. The robbers fled through a window. And Beyer lay on the floor, looking at his own blood and the legs that would no longer move.
He’d become his own hero.
“I had to make a choice that night and run after a guy with a gun,” said Beyer, on the phone from Georgia, where he is still an inpatient learning to navigate a wheelchair. “It’s not a perfect outcome, but I’m lucky to be alive. I’m not going to be sad about it. I’m pretty excited to be alive.”
This happened one month ago on an Oakwood street just east of downtown, three blocks from my house. Within a few hours, Raleigh police arrested a pair of brothers who crashed their car after a high-speed chase through Southeast Raleigh.
They were 26 and 16. Between them, they face a long string of felony charges: attempted murder, attempted rape, robbery, kidnapping.
I’ve never met Beyer, but we know a lot of the same people. A lot of us play in a marching band that parades down the same streets where the robbers fled.
Nothing has shaken this neighborhood’s sense of safety like Beyer’s few minutes in the darkness.
A lot of us bought motion-sensor lights. Some of us installed security systems. But mostly, we imagined ourselves in Beyer’s terrible shoes.
He’s 34, and he works in pharmaceutical marketing. He used to play lacrosse.
When the intruder’s bullet him in the lower back, near the vertebrae known as T-10, all he could think of was “Did I act quickly enough?” And lying on the floor, unable to move, only reasonably sure his wife had escaped, he waited 3 minutes thinking, “I hope somebody’s coming to get me.” Only later, being wheeled into an ambulance, did he know his moment of wild chivalry had worked. They were both alive.
Beyer is a survivor we admire. Nothing has inspired this neighborhood quite like his bravery. His Oakwood neighbors held both a prayer vigil and a benefit concert.
You can see his progress on the Facebook page set up to raise money for expenses: JJB Medical Fund.
With his huge grin and his backward-turned hat, he looks more like a man trying out a new pair of skis than a wheelchair.
He talks about learning to shower and dress himself like a man prepping for an economics exam. He talks about regaining some of his motion like a freshman yearning for a diploma. He never mentions his setbacks; only his goals.
“I need to focus on maximizing my abilities,” he says. “Maybe walk out of here, maybe roll out of here. Bellybutton is pretty much the equator right now.”
He’ll likely need a wheelchair when he comes home. He’ll need to modify his house and car. He figures he’ll be independent, and able to keep working despite the frequent travel his job requires.
Last week he watched the Super Bowl from rehab, and the game reminded him of the credos he carried as a lacrosse player: patience, persistence, visualization.
I think of something else when I check in on Beyer. His Facebook page is designed so that the first thing you see is a picture of a fist curled in front of a black background. It’s not an angry fist, or defiant. To me, it says, “I’m stronger than anything you can throw at me, because I’m a good person, and people love me for it.”
Inked across the fingers, you can read the moral of this calamitous story:
Be your own hero.