It was a simple “thumbs up” sign. But how significant it was to the family of Reece Good, the Gardner, Kansas custom motorcycle builder who was shot in the hand and head August 11 in Kansas City, Kansas, a victim of a random act of violence. He and two of his friends were returning from a six-day trip to the motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Good was slowly coming out of a coma three weeks after the shooting. Doctors were not sure if he would ever regain consciousness. And if he did, they had no way of predicting the effects the injury would have on Good’s ability to recover.
The family was prepared for the worst. They prayed for a miracle. Good had been somewhat responsive. He occasionally would squeeze a person’s hand on command. But there had been nothing definitive, no clear indication of what life would be like for him in the future.
“He would do certain things and we knew he was improving,” Heath Good, Reece’s brother, said. “Doctors told us it would be hard to determine how he would recover until he came out of the coma.” Then one day Reece opened his eyes. Nurses asked him if he knew who was standing at the end of the bed. His hand slowly turned upward and his thumb pointed up in the air. “The nurses started hollering and telling everyone,” Joyce Murray, Reece’s mother, said. “The day he did the ‘thumbs up,’ everyone knew then that he was going to be OK.”
It was an emotional day then. It’s still emotional for the family to talk about. “But,” Kim Good, Reece’s sister-in-law, said, “we’ve gone from tears of sadness to tears of joy. These are tears of joy.” There have been a lot of tears caused by a myriad of emotions that has taken Reece and his family on a difficult and painful journey since August 11. Some are emotions never before experienced; some are emotions they might struggle with the rest of their lives.
When the shooting occurred, Reece’s sister Julie was set to move to Pittsburg, Kansas, and attend Pittsburg State University. “I was torn,” she said, tears welling in her eyes. “I didn’t want to go to Pittsburg. I felt like I was walking out on him.” Kim said the family urged her go to Pittsburg. “Reece would have wanted to her go to school rather than stay here,” she said. Julie said she knew that, too, but that didn’t make leaving her brother any easier. “It’s hard to study,” she said. “Because I feel like I’m not able to be with my family when I’m needed most. When he called me on the phone, I knew he was going to be OK.”
Heath is the most vocal with his emotions. “When something like this happens, you start to doubt whether there are really good people out there,” he said. “I mean, we don’t live in their (the people who shot Reece) world. They don’t deserve to breathe the air we breathe. “This is America. This isn’t a Third-World country. “But then everyone in the community started coming forward . . .,” he had to pause. “There were people at the hospital the day it happened that beat me getting there. It’s hard to begin to thank people for what they’ve done, not just the people of Gardner, but all the way to Las Vegas, Texas, Orange County Choppers, all the people who buy stuff from Reece, there are a lot of people who put in a lot of time and effort to help him. “And all we can do is say thank you.”
There has been a barbecue; several auctions, a car and bike show , a bake sale, and a poker run to raise money for the Reece Good Medical Expense Fund. Reece and his family hope these events will continue with proceeds going to help other people in need. “I would like to see the money help people who have no control over what has happened to them, whether it is a random act of violence, cancer, or something else,” Joyce said. “The money might benefit a 6-year-old child or a 40-year-old guy. But this is one way we can give back to the community for everything the people have done for us.”
Joyce said Kansas City, Kansas detectives have kept in contact with the family and still are working on the case. “They have had a few leads, but so far they have fallen through,” she said. “There is a $15,000 reward; some day they’ll get caught. They’ll do something else, and they’ll get caught.”
If given the opportunity, Reece and his family were asked what they would like to say to the shooter. Most couldn’t answer. Reece didn’t have to think about it and answered quickly. “They can burn in hell,” said Reece. Added Kim, “They (the people who shot Reece) don’t understand how it affects the lives of so many people. The family, and the people who own businesses and did so much work on the fund-raisers, that took time away from their businesses. “And when I go somewhere, I’m on my guard every minute of the day. I didn’t used to be like that.”
It was a convenience store on Kansas Avenue near I-635 where the three had stopped to take a quick break from the road. It was just after 3 a.m. when the truck pulled back onto Kansas Avenue and headed for I-635. A small car with three young Hispanic males raced up to the driver’s side of the truck. Five shots rang out going through the windshield. Reece’s friend, who was driving the truck, ducked down into the seat. There was another passenger sleeping in the back seat. Reece, strapped into the passenger’s seat belt, was shot in the left hand and in the head. He was the only one hit by the gunfire.
Doctors have said it is too dangerous to attempt removing the bullet and its fragments.
Wayne Murray, Reece’s stepfather, said he would never go to the place where Reece was shot. “I just can’t do that,” he said. “I don’t want to go by where it happened; I don’t think I ever will.” Reece, though, said if given the chance, he would go to the place where he was shot. “I might,” he said. “If one day I’m out and about, I’ll go by there.”
Doctors think Reece will recover to around 90 percent of his functions. He is now home but continues to undergo therapy each day. Sometime within the next two months, he will undergo another surgery to replace a portion of his skull that was removed to help the brain heal. When that is done, Reece no longer will have to wear a protective helmet whenever he walks. “I want to finish the therapy,” said Reece. “I go five days a week, seven to eight hours a day. It’s tough. I have 11 weeks left and then I will go back to the shop.”
He visits his Ultra Craft Customs motorcycle shop where Ryan Olah continues to work.
“I take care of the business part of it,” said Heath. “But it’s Ryan who keeps the shop going. Without him there, we couldn’t do it. He does everything from talking to customers, to ordering parts, to building handlebars, which we sell to a company in Las Vegas.
“And Joy comes back home and works on weekends.”
Although Reece has medical insurance, it will not fully cover the enormous amount of medical bills associated with his injuries. Donations to help pay for those expenses can be made to: The Live to Ride Fund, c/o Reece Good, Gardner National Bank, P.O. Box 429, Gardner, KS 66030.
Everyone said Thanksgiving would be something special this year. “We’re going to go to my grandma’s in Pleasanton,” Reece said. “She cooks a lot and it’s good.” Everyone said the family was close before the shooting, and that the incident has brought them even closer. Since August 11, each has their own moment of extreme joy.
Heath looks to the future. “I think the highest point for us is yet to come,” said Heath. “Reece is a pretty determined guy.” Joyce looks at her family, helps Reece move from point to point, and through her tears of joy knows she has plenty to be thankful for this holiday season. “We feel like our prayers were answered,” said Joyce.
By Chuck Kurtz