Sole survivor of Yuma-area shootings speaks out
Saturday, June 18, 2011
PHOENIX (AP) — It was 5 a.m. on June 2 when Linda Clatone was jarred awake by a knock at the door.
Still wearing pajamas, the 52-year-old school bus driver opened the door and saw a man's silhouette.
"I said, 'George?' thinking it was my friend," Clatone says. "Then he shot me, and he shot me again. And he kept shooting."
Clatone was one of the five targets of 73-year-old gunman Carey Hal Dyess that morning. In all, he would kill four people before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide.
Clatone was the sole survivor of the shooting spree that rattled the Yuma area in southwestern Arizona. Dyess targeted his ex-wife Theresa Lorraine Sigurdson, her divorce attorney and others who knew her.
Clatone said Sigurdson was her best friend.
Clatone recounted the terrifying moments of the shooting to The Associated Press from her Phoenix hospital room Friday. Round, red bullet wounds dot her face, neck, upper left chest and left shoulder. She speaks with a hoarse voice because a bullet fragment hit her pharynx, and she periodically uses a tube to suck away excess saliva that she has trouble swallowing.
"I will never forget that bang," Clatone said of the first shot, which hit her left cheek, adding that it was the most pain she has ever experienced.
Clatone said as Dyess kept firing, she fell to the ground and put her arms in front of her face while yelling, "Why? Why?"
Dyess then left, and Clatone was able to reach her cell phone, which was lying on a nearby counter, and call her neighbors, who then called 911. A helicopter then airlifted Clatone to Banner Good Samaritan hospital near downtown Phoenix, where she has been the last two weeks.
The six-hour rampage started around dawn in the small town of Wellton and extended west to Yuma, ending when Dyess pulled his car over and shot himself.
In addition to Sigurdson, 61, Dyess killed her divorce attorney, Jerrold Shelley, and Sigurdson's friends.
Court records show Dyess and Sigurdson went through a bitter divorce, arguing over money and access to their 10-acre property in Wellton that included a house, a guest house and hay fields. The two also made allegations of domestic violence against each other, and each obtained an order of protection against the other.
Dyess was listed in court records as a retiree who had a pension, collected Social Security and made extra money training horses. Sigurdson had been his fifth wife.
Clatone said when Dyess and Sigurdson first moved from Washington to Wellton, she acted as their tour guide of sorts, taking them around town and on a couple trips, including one to Quartzite for a gem show.
She never considered Dyess a friend and steered clear of him after the divorce five years ago, when she said he began to scare Sigurdson.
"During the divorce, she feared him. They were fighting pretty bad and he had a lot of guns around," Clatone said. "But after five years, you kind of forget about that and kind of get on with your life."
She said Sigurdson didn't really speak of Dyess anymore, and in fact, Clatone thought he had moved out of the country.
She can't figure out why he would have shot her.
"I was her friend, but I never interfered or took sides during the divorce," she said. "I still don't understand. I'll probably never know why."
Not only is Clatone struggling with the trauma of being shot multiple times and being the only survivor of a mass shooting, she is struggling with losing Sigurdson and the death of her mother, who succumbed to cancer three days before the shooting.
"I'm just trying to get better," she said. "I'm sure I'm going to need counseling after this."
Right now, she's relying on her two sisters, brother and father for support. Clatone is not married and doesn't have children, unless you count her two dogs, Lucy and Gracie.
As she waited for an ambulance to arrive that morning, thinking she was going to die, Clatone said she asked her neighbors if they would be sure to take care of the dogs.
Dr. Corey Detlefs, one of the Banner Good Samaritan trauma surgeons who have been caring for Clatone, said she's lucky to be alive, especially because two of the bullets hit her neck.
"If either of those bullets had been a centimeter over, they would have hit her carotid artery and she wouldn't have survived," he said. "There would have been six people dead instead of five."
He said with work, Clatone can get 100 percent back to normal and return to the job she loves, driving a school bus for students at Antelope Union High School in Wellton. As far as mentally and emotionally, he said that will be a struggle, too.
"Oftentimes, people feel guilty when they are the one survivor," he said, adding that it's likely something Clatone will have to deal with down the road.
For now, Clatone said she has avoided reading or watching anything about the shooting, or thinking about her best friend too much, and just knows that she's lucky to be alive.
"I know my mama was there that day taking care of me," Clatone said. "Otherwise, I'd be dead."