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Senseless Act Clouds Teen’s Bright Future

Shelly Morgan thought she had the world by the end of an aluminum bat.

That was before a punk with a sawed-off shotgun dimmed the sports dreams of the 15-year-old softball star.

Surgeons removed the Spokane Valley girl’s left eye Friday afternoon. More surgery will take out some of the pellets still burrowed in her flesh.

What can’t be so easily repaired are the dark visions that cause this young girl to cry out in the night.

Visions of being blasted in the face at close range.

“I saw him point the gun barrel at me. I saw his finger pull the trigger,” says Shelly of what happened to her after midnight July 8.

“Sometimes I see it over and over.”

Shelly is a pretty, dark-haired girl who is rarely out of uniform. She plays something - volleyball, basketball or softball - year-round.

She is one of only three East Valley High School freshmen ever to earn a varsity fast-pitch letter. During the summer you can find her on second base for the Spokane Heat, a tournament-tough team of mostly older girls.

Coaches describe her as a sunny yet serious student who never misses practice. A kid convinced her physical skills will one day land her a scholarship to a fast-pitch powerhouse like Arizona State.

Now she is one of the latest victims of senseless youth violence, a cancer spreading too fast in this once-sleepy city.

“This isn’t just about my daughter,” says Shelly’s mother, Robyn.

“People need to know this can happen to the girl next door. It’s time we all wake up to what’s happening here.”

Shelly’s night out should have been a bit of harmless teenage fun. Who could guess things would turn so vicious at a Taco Bell parking lot?

Barry Morgan, a burly Kaiser worker, says his daughter was spending the night with a schoolmate. Without asking permission, Shelly accompanied her friend and a mutual friend to a popular teen dance club.

“Had I known she was there, I would have gone down and yanked her out,” Barry adds sadly.

Before heading home, Shelly, her girlfriend and the 20-year-old man driving stopped at the Northpointe Shopping Center for a taco.

That’s where police say 16-year-old Nathan Lee Witherspoon decided to show off with a loaded shotgun.

“Nothing in life prepares you for getting a call in the middle of the night and hearing someone say your daughter’s been shot in the face,” says Robyn.

Witherspoon was seen jumping out of a car and brandishing the weapon. One of his two pals goaded him to “shoot someone.”

Witnesses say he fired at a parked compact car. The spray of pellets peppered the rear driver’s-side window. Shelly was sitting in the back seat. Sixteen pellets hit her, one of which ruined her left eye. Shelly’s girlfriend, in the front passenger’s seat, was uninjured. The driver was cut by flying glass.

There doesn’t appear to be any reason for the shooting other than Witherspoon trying to act tough, says Police Lt. Jerry Oien.

The teenager was arrested within an hour. He is locked up in the Spokane County Jail, waiting to be tried for assault as an adult. His companion, Sylvester Davis Jr., 20, is also charged with assault. A 15-year-old boy is charged with assault and possessing drugs.

Like his wife, Barry has a difficult time comprehending a world where kids carry guns.

The Morgan home in Spokane’s rural suburbs is a tidy shrine to the athletic accomplishments of Shelly, her older sister, Tianne, and their younger brother, Chris.

This is a family devoted to sports. Pictures of the kids in various uniforms line the walls. Barry plays in his own summer softball leagues.

“Shelly is pretty much your basic, All-American kid,” Barry says. “Good grades. No drugs. All smiles. Her whole life is sports. Nothing else.”

He pauses. “I want the kid who shot her to know this,” he says. “I want him to know what kind of person he hurt.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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