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May 7th, 2009
06:54 PM ET

The ugly truth behind the first U.S. face transplant

Culp, an Ohio mother of two, lost the mid-portion of her face after a gunshot wound in September 2004.

Culp, an Ohio mother of two, lost the mid-portion of her face after a gunshot wound in September 2004.
Connie Culp, 46, was identified as the first recipient of a face transplant in the United States.

Connie Culp, 46, was identified as the first recipient of a face transplant in the United States.

Cate Vojdik
AC360 Writer

A shot gun blast fired at point blank range blew away much of Connie Culp’s face five years ago. Think about those words for a second. A shot gun blast. To the face. Fired at point blank range.

Culp’s husband pulled the trigger.

We learned those chilling facts Tuesday, when the first U.S. recipient of a face transplant revealed her identity for the first time.

Culp’s press conference at the Cleveland Clinic got a lot of coverage, most of which focused on the extraordinary surgical procedures that gave Culp a new face. The fact that she was left horribly disfigured–to the point where children ran from her–because her husband shot her in the face didn’t get as much attention. Culp herself has said she wants to move on with her life and has forgiven her husband, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence.

Today we’re following another story involving a woman shot at point-blank range, allegedly by a man she knew. Johanna Justin-Jinich, a junior at Wesleyan University, was working at a bookstore-café near the campus when she was killed yesterday afternoon. Police have launched a nationwide search for 29-year-old Stephen Morgan, against whom Justin-Jinich filed a harassment complaint nearly two years ago. He’s the main suspect.

Sadly, in the annals of criminal statistics, Connie Culp—and apparently Johanna Justin-Jinich–aren’t unique. Historically, females have been most often victimized by someone they know. In 2007, according to the Department of Justice, more than half a million violent crimes were committed against female victims by an intimate partner while just 69,000 males were the victims of such crimes. A whopping 69 percent of all violent crimes against women in 2007 were committed by someone known to the victim—whether a husband, boyfriend, relative, friend or acquaintance. Find more of the DOJ statistics here.

There are still a lot of unknowns in the case of Justin-Jinich. We don’t know for sure that Stephen Morgan is in fact the man seen on a surveillance video wielding a gun moments before Justin-Jinich was shot. Police have found the wig and beard they believe the shooter wore as a disguise. They also say they found a journal in Morgan’s car in which the suspect expressed threats toward Wesleyan and/or its Jewish students.

Back to Connie Culp. You might think that she is unique, even among the many victims of domestic violence, because of her horrible injuries. She’s not. Carolyn Thomas, a resident of Waco Texas, has gone through the same hell. You can read about her story here.

In December 2003, Thomas’s former boyfriend burst into the apartment she shared with her mother and shot them both, killing Thomas’s mom. Thomas lost her right eye, her nose, her cheeks, the roof of her mouth and most of her teeth. Her shooter went to prison for life and Thomas underwent seven operations over two years to rebuild her face. This weekend, Thomas will be honored at a luncheon to benefit the Houston Area Women’s Center. According to the Houston Chronicle, her surgeries were provided through a program that matches doctors and hospitals willing to donate care to survivors of domestic violence.

The fact that there is a need for such a program is itself a sobering fact.


Filed under: Cate Vojdik • Gun Violence • Medical News
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Matt from Minneapolis

    A poor choice of words for the headline.

    May 8, 2009 at 12:46 am |
  2. lucy

    Someone should pay this woman to be the new poster gal for Domestic Violence Abuse PSA Ads! Can you imagine the impact for these teen kids hanging with abusive boyfriends! Let them see this gal before her beautiful face was blasted with a gunshot to her face by her abusive husband who only got 7 year in Prison! Rhianna needs to visit with this lady! GOD BLESS CONNIE CULP!

    May 7, 2009 at 11:00 pm |
  3. Jim Carroll

    Seven years in prison, they should have hang her husband along
    side of Soddam.

    May 7, 2009 at 10:01 pm |
  4. Stephanie

    What in the world can we do to help? Please give us information on where to start on how to punish these people who basically want to murder another person and don't succeed with that horrible attempt. How can that woman's husband only get 7 years for doing that to her? It just upsets me deeply!!

    May 7, 2009 at 9:57 pm |
  5. Leah

    What the HELL??? He only got SEVEN years for what he did to her?? This is what's wrong with out system and why men continue to batter women. I know someone who got more time than that for writing bad checks. This stinks!!

    May 7, 2009 at 9:46 pm |
  6. Teresa, OH

    The last sentence says it all.

    And a big thanks to the doctors and hospitals that donate care to the victims.

    May 7, 2009 at 9:39 pm |
  7. Eleanor, Ga.

    This story has sadden me, but it brought about awareness of cowardly men who physically abuse women. if we would walk away from that lover, or husband at the 1st attempt of disrespect or a threat, more of us will be living today. What makes us afraid to walk before it escalates/ My youngest daughter died in "94", leaving 3 beautiful girls. i reared those girls , two are married and the youngest is still attending college. The two that are married , i le them keep the key to my house and told them , at anytime that they feel threaten by their spouse...come home. We as mothers must make our girls aware that they can always come home rather than be abusive situation. Many times our girls are afraid to come home, thinking that they failed as a wife.Or stay in a situation rather than lose their new found freedom.

    May 7, 2009 at 9:14 pm |
  8. Pat Tibbs

    This is a subject I've been raising questions about for years. I hope you will investigate the phenomenon. It's about male violence.

    What is it about men that makes them so violent? I realize that not all men are violent but it seems self evident that their violence against women far outweighs women's violence against men – or against anyone, for that matter.

    What is that about? Why are men violent? Why do males gravitate toward violence? Not just their own, but action flicks? action computer games? violent crime of all kinds?

    And why isn't anyone calling them on it? Why doesn't our society talk about it? Study it? Do something about it? We seem to just accept it as a fact of life, that we must live with.

    Well I can't accept male violence ( or violence of any kind) as a fact of life, a phenomenon that we must live with. I abhor it and urge you to take it on as an important news story.

    May 7, 2009 at 8:21 pm |
  9. jean clemenz

    what is there to say but god bless these women. there are no words.

    May 7, 2009 at 8:02 pm |
  10. Cortni

    These men crazy as hell!!!!!!!

    May 7, 2009 at 7:56 pm |
  11. Kim

    What happened to her face? OMG!!!!!

    May 7, 2009 at 7:55 pm |
  12. Tammy, Berwick

    The fact that women still are not valued and respected by men is horrific and sobering in and of itself. One of my students lost his mom to domestic violence earlier this semester. She was abducted and violently murdered by her partner. Until women are respected, violent acts like those we've seen will continue. Until law enforcement takes the complaints about stalkers and abuse seriously and protects those victimized, the violence will continue. We talk about the rape and abuse women face in other countries and how bad that is. Abuse is abuse. Assault is assault. Whether that woman lives in abject poverty or is the heiress to millions, she's still a victim, she still needs protection, and it is still so wrong that she has to endure and suffer at the hands of some crazed male who quite simply should be put away and allowed to get help to change his behaviors.

    May 7, 2009 at 7:52 pm |
  13. GF, Los Angeles

    What?! The husband only gets 7 years for the shooting?! What an injustice!

    May 7, 2009 at 7:47 pm |
  14. Annie Kate

    Until your report last night I thought face transplants were only stuff done in movies – not possible in real life. I'm glad I was wrong and that Connie could get a new face. I hope when her husband is out of jail though she'll be smart and stay away from him. Next time she might not be as lucky just like thousands of other women shot and battered by the men in their lives.

    May 7, 2009 at 7:42 pm |
  15. Mike in NYC

    So all men should feel guilty about the actions of some of the members of their gender?

    It's awful what happened to Culp. Her husband clearly meant to kill her, not just maim her. Like Mary Winkler, the minister's wife who killed her husband, also with a shotgun, and who served only 67 days.

    May 7, 2009 at 7:32 pm |
  16. Mary

    A friend and I were just talking about why women would get into relationships that are harmful to them. We know of women who have stayed in relationships with men that mistreat them and can't understand why. I don't think that it is healthy for a relationship if either side is too dependent on the other. You have to be able to stand on your own two feet.

    May 7, 2009 at 7:00 pm |