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The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Baby shot during 1988 fireworks returns to S. Ill.

  • The front page of the July 5, 1988, edition of The Daily Register depicted the wonder of Harrisburg's Independence Day that year — and the horror. The center photo was of two exploding fireworks above Taylor Field and the caption remarked on the large crowd in attendance at the Chamber of Commerce's display. Below it was the chilling headline “Child seriously wounded by possible bullet.”
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  • The front page of the July 5, 1988, edition of The Daily Register depicted the wonder of Harrisburg's Independence Day that year — and the horror.
    The center photo was of two exploding fireworks above Taylor Field and the caption remarked on the large crowd in attendance at the Chamber of Commerce's display. Below it was the chilling headline "Child seriously wounded by possible bullet." Suspicion has always been a Fourth of July reveler fired a bullet into the air without considering where it might come back down.
    It came down about 9:05 p.m. in the north end of the stadium at Taylor Field, entered the top of 2-year-old Brandon X. Battles' head, traveled between his scalp and his skull with a fragment entering his brain and lodged behind his ear. He was sitting on the lap of his mother, Stephanie Battles.
    The 2-year-old was crying, but that wasn't unusual.
    "It turns out as a child I was scared of loud sounds, anyway," Battles said.
    Thunder, gunshots and fireworks upset him, but this cry was different.
    "One went off and I started crying louder than normal. My mother wiped my tears away and found blood," Battles said.
    He remembers nothing of the incident, but has heard it recounted by his family, has the newspaper clippings and keeps a quarterly publication of Deaconess Hospital that chronicled his treatment and recovery.
    His brother, Greg Weinman — then 12 years old — ran to find help and a doctor who was watching the fireworks display took charge.
    Battles was taken by ambulance to Harrisburg Medical Center, then taken by helicopter to Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Ind.
    Early indications were positive for Battles' ability to survive the injury, but with severe lasting damage.
    "The initial prognosis was I would never walk or talk again," Battles said.
    That prognosis improved once the bullet fragment was out, but there was an unexpected complication.
    Battles learned there was a nurse assigned to him to carry out hospital protocol of checking his condition every hour or two. Instead, she checked every 15 minutes and that dedication likely saved his life. The bullet was removed July 9, but a clot formed due the extraction. The nurse discovered there was a problem in one of her every-15-minute visits.
    "They found it in the main artery of my brain. If it would have ruptured it would have killed me," Battles said.
    Doctors performed successful emergency surgery.
    Battles was in the hospital under the care of neurosurgeon Emil Weber three to four months spending the majority of his time in the pediatrics unit. He underwent rehabilitation to ensure his motor skills were working correctly. His attention returned to the diversions of normal 2-year-olds. There was a Red Rider Wagon for kids to play with in the hospital. Battles fell in love with it and would not let any of the other children play with it.
    Page 2 of 3 - "My grandmother brought me a Red Rider Wagon," he said.
    His wagon and his Roger Rabbit doll helped to keep him occupied as he endured the recovery process.
    The family offer thanks to those in the area who gave them support through the ordeal and who contributed donations to the funds set up for Battles medical treatment.
    His parents, John and Stephanie (Brown) Battles kept the family in Harrisburg about another two years. In 1990 John Battles transferred from working at the Illinois Youth Center in Harrisburg to the Peoria Work Release Center in Peoria. The boys grew up in Peoria and Weinman and their parents still reside there. Battles' mother's side of the family lives in Eldorado.
    There is still a piece of bullet fragment in Battles' brain and because of it he cannot have an MRI. Doctors warned against him playing contact sports in school for risk that fragment would move and cause damage. The fragment is small — too small to set off metal detectors — but it does show up on a CAT scan, he said.
    Battles returned to Southern Illinois two years ago upon the death of his grandmother on his father's side. Her house in Carbondale would likely have sat empty as the probate process ran its course, but Battles decided to move in and take care of the home.
    Battles is the digital media manager for River Radio in Carterville and is a newlywed. He married Danielle (Jenkins) Battles of Carterville June 7 and they are expecting a child Nov. 23. The two intend to make a home of Southern Illinois.
    Battles still has a scar on his head that people ask him about sometimes. He has a good answer from a phrase on a shirt one of his relatives bought him. It read, "I May not be bullet proof, but I'm bullet resistant."
    Battles overcame his early childhood fear of loud noises and enjoys watching fireworks. He is also gun proponent and member of the Tombstone Gun Range and Training Center in Marion.
    "I haven't shied away from it at all," Battles said.
    His father took him hunting for deer and rabbit early in his life.
    "It was learning to be responsible and learning to use and manage something that almost took you," Battles said.
    "You can't be afraid to live your life just because of one incident."
    Battles has overcome his early hurdle and suffers no long-term effects. His reflexes are a little slower on his left side than his right which doctors have noticed during physicals when they whack his knee with the little hammer.
    Battles would like some closure.
    For days following July 4, 1988, The Daily Register published appeals from Harrisburg Police for the public's help in identifying who may have fired that bullet.
    Page 3 of 3 - "There were never any leads. It kind of just trickled off," Battles said.
    But 25 years later he issues a renewed plea, in hopes someone — knowing the wounded child is now a grown man "loving life every day" — might come forward without fear of criminal prosecution.
    "I wish I did know," he said.
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