Woman injured by gunman graduates — (Amarillo.com)

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Amarillo.com,  The Associated Press

Note: Ann Tracy, Ph.D., Executive Director of the International Coalition for Drug Awareness, confirmed that the gunman was taking Paxil at the time of the murder attempt and the suicide.

AUSTIN (AP) – Schreiner University biology student Julie Beasley was given little chance for survival by doctors a year ago after being shot by a gunman as she was studying mistletoe in a Kerr County field.

But Beasley, who has undergone about 30 surgeries, walked across the stage at the university graduation in Kerrville and received her bachelor’s degree in biology.

When her name was announced Sunday, the entire class of 2002 – all 125 of them – stood and cheered. Someone in the back of the building shouted: “You go, Miracle Girl!”

“Anytime you go from a 5 percent chance of survival to a Summa Cum Laude graduate, it’s a pretty dramatic year,” her father, Michael Beasley, told the Austin American-Statesman for its Monday editions.

During spring break in March 2001, Julie Beasley encountered Brian Balas, a hunting guide from Eagle Lake who terrorized Kerrville residents for days after checking himself out of an alcohol treatment center. He punched an elderly woman in the face during a carjacking, smashed another woman in the head with a frying pan during a burglary and exchanged gunshots with a homeowner who caught Balas on his property.

His last target was Beasley. Balas, who wanted her vehicle, shot her twice with a deer rifle – once in the elbow and once in the hip – and drove off in Beasley’s truck.

Bleeding heavily, Beasley used her one good arm to drag herself across 177 yards of scrub brush and barbed wire fences until she reached the roadside where a Kerr County sheriff’s deputy sent to investigate reports of gunfire found her.  Balas shot himself to death a short while later as law officers pursued the stolen vehicle.

Beasley survived despite massive blood loss. Doctors at University Hospital in San Antonio built a new hip and elbow for her, and she took her first steps in August.

Beasley still struggles to use her right arm, and doctors fear they may have to replace her prosthetic elbow.

Her mother, Aggie Beasley, wiped tears from her eyes at the graduation.   “I didn’t imagine being here,” she said. “I just imagined her living.”

Kerr County sheriff Rusty Hierholzer was there Sunday to watch. So was David Knapp, the surgical nurse who took care of Beasley.

“This is just awesome,” he said, watching Beasley pose for pictures with friends and relatives after the ceremony. “I’ve never seen her standing on her legs before.”

Before the shooting, Beasley hoped for an art career illustrating medical books.   Now she plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career practicing bio-feedback therapy, the same treatment that helped her learn to walk again.

Beasley said she used to think about Balas constantly, but not anymore.   “It used to be I couldn’t bring myself to say his name. I’ve let go of him now,” she said.

“It’s all turned out for the better. I’ve made a lot of good friends, and I’ve learned some lessons I wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”

Kerrville is about 80 miles west of Austin.