Jeff Laster’s Story

Nine Lives: Amazing Stories of Survival

Jeff Laster remembers lying on a bench in Fort Worth’s Wedgewood Baptist Church that night. A bullet had pierced his stomach and left a hole in his shirt, but he didn’t see any blood. Surely he was fine, he thought. But he felt weak. He wiggled his toes to see if he was still alive. A warm sensation started to envelop his body starting at the crown of his head. Then a sense of weightlessness and peace took away the pain.

“You are not going to die,” Jeff heard someone or something say to him.

Minutes before, a man wearing a baggy windbreaker, reflective sunglasses and a cigarette dangling from his lips walked into the church’s south entrance. It was a warm Wednesday evening in September 1999, just months after the Columbine shooting in Colorado. Jeff met the man at the door to tell him he couldn’t smoke inside the building. In what felt like slow motion, Jeff watched the mysterious man pull a 9 mm pistol out of his coat two feet away from him and squeeze the trigger. He shot Jeff in the abdomen and left arm. The gunman turned around and shot Jeff’s best friend.

The church was full of youth and adults that night because there was a rally and choir practice. A teenage boy approached the madman filming what he thought was a dramatic skit. The gunman shot and killed him. After the news of Columbine, nobody thought something like that could happen again, especially in their hometown of Fort Worth. So people casually walked out of the church in what they thought was a distasteful joke.

Seven people died that night including Jeff’s best friend. Seven more were seriously injured — Jeff was one of them.

“The bullet went through my kidney, liver, pancreas and small intestines…the doctor said it was like a high-speed car hitting ice. It went everywhere,” Jeff said.

He lost 50 percent of his blood internally. He overheard the paramedics working on him. One said they were waiting for CareFlite. Another barked back and said there is no time; he will die before they get him to the hospital. But Jeff knew this wasn’t true. He would be OK.

“There are a lot of times in your life that God tells you to do something, and it is up to you to do it, and you have to accept what he tells you. Clear as anything in my life, God said, ‘You’re not going to die.’ He didn’t say what was going to happen next — lifelong health issues, the stay in the hospital for a long time and surgery,” Jeff said.

Jeff said he doesn’t live in fear. Since his intestines were permanently damaged, he can’t eat some things, but he said that keeps him from eating junk he shouldn’t anyway. The surgeon who repaired all of Jeff’s organs decided it was too risky to remove the bullet, so Jeff still lives with it in his back. He doesn’t mind; he’s happy to be alive. He still works at the church where he almost died 16 years earlier.


Derek Hill

Eve Pearson

Jeff Laster

Jonathan Merchant

Lori Gallagher

Mol Rith & Rattan Mao

Rabbi Sidney Zimelman

Rebekah Charleston