Armed America: Innocence Lost

At first glance, Chistina Lemley's daughter Katie runs and plays and looks like any three year old, but what happened to her shouldn't happen to anyone.

"I think it was hard for me because of how it happened," explains Christina.

The scars on Katie's body outline an appalling story. Katie was shot in the face by her uncle Jonathon, Christina's Brother.

"It was like my brother and my child," reflects Christina. "I loved him with all my heart, but she WAS my heart."

Jonathon is only 14. He was rough-housing with Katie, racing around the family's trailer in Southern Arkansas when the unimaginable happened.

CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports that Jonathon chased Katie into a room where behind the door were three guns leaning against the wall. It was all part of the game. Jonathon picked up one of the shotguns and pointed it at his niece. He didn't know it was loaded, until he pulled the trigger.

"I would say it was one of the worst gunshots I've ever worked, says paramedic Jeff Devine.

At the time, Jeff was visiting next door. He knows Katie well, but she was missing so much of her face that he hardly recognized her.

"She really didn't look human," explains Jeff. "She just looked like something instead of someone."

Katie nearly died, and as a result of that split-second tragedy in her mother's home, Katie spent 10 and a half weeks in Arkansas Children's Hospital, where she underwent 13 operations.

And there's more to come.

"I believe this child will always require some medical followup," says Steve Schexnayder, one of her doctors.

Doctors had to take part of Katie's leg and mold it into a jaw bone for her. They will have to continue operating on her to add onto the makeshift jaw until Katie is an adult.

She'll need speech therapy, physical therapy, and a host of other treatments. So far, Katie's medical bills total more than $300,000, and her mother is broke.

"I had a good job," explains Christina. "I had a good family. I had a good, pretty little girl, innocent. Now, I don't have hardly anything."

In 1996, almost 4,000 children like Katie were taken to hospitals with accidental gun shot wounds. Much of the costs are paid by the taxpayers, and even though Katie's mother can't begin to pay, in many ways she'll never stop paying.

"I know that it's my fault because the guns were in the house and I let them be there. I look every day at her and I realize just one little thing could tear somebody's whole life apart."

Part 2 of this special series on The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather airs Wednesday. For a preview, click below.

CBS Evening News
Armed America
Starting July 13. Click headlines for previews.
T U E S D A Y The Costs of Accidents: More Than Money
W E D N E S D A Y Guns As A Way Of Life
T H U R S D A Y Victims: The Skyrocketing Price Of Care
F R I D A Y Concealed Weapons: Deterrent To Violence?
M O N D A Y What's In The Second Amendment?
I N T E R A C T I V E Arm Yourself With The Facts