‘Blessed to be alive’: Knoxville man advocates for gun safety after shooting accident

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)– A Knoxville man is spreading awareness for gun safety after he nearly died from accidentally shooting himself.

William Conner, 24, was the victim in the accidental shooting Jan. 21 in the Walmart parking lot off Clinton Highway.

“Because of one mistake, my life could have ended,” Conner said.

Conner said he was never big into guns. In fact, he had just bought his first gun only three years ago.

Conner said he only got a handgun and a shotgun to protect himself from animals.

“The only reason I got the guns is because I was moving out to the country. You know, I was looking at land in Jamestown; looking at building a cabin. You know, out there there’s things that can kill you,” Conner said.

Conner said he headed to Walmart for quick grocery trip.

“People are going to think this is funny, but I picked up a steak the day before that was too big for my skillet. So I had to pick up another iron skillet,” Conner said.

He also bought himself his favorite drinks, Body Armor sports drink, to refill his cooler in his car.

Conner is a food delivery driver, so he keeps them stocked to prevent dehydration on long work days.

This trip to Walmart, he was by himself, which is something he doesn’t usually do.

That was a good thing this time around.

After getting back to his van, Conner noticed his shotgun had moved in front of his cooler, blocking him from putting the drinks inside.

“I went to move the shotgun, because I realized it slip, which made it, you know, I couldn’t put my drinks in there,” Conner said.

That’s when he noticed his first mistake: The cable lock wasn’t secured on his gun.

That led to his second mistake becoming a bigger problem: his gun was loaded.

“Because I didn’t put the cable lock in, when I laid it down, and my hand slipped, it chambered it. I didn’t catch that. Because I was rushing,” Conner said.

Conner accidentally shot himself near his right shoulder.

“Last thing I know, I’m looking down into a hole in my arm,” Conner said.

Growing up as a Baptist, Conner knew that day, God was on his side and had guardian angels there to save his life.

Conner said his memory of what happened after getting shot is blurry, but there are moments he won’t forget.

“I feel a woman grab my arm, which is Dee Dee, that lady that everybody’s calling the nurse that, you know, truly saved my life. And I see a man running around my car, he’s offering his belt up,” Conner said.

Conner said Dee Dee Futrell was truly his life saver.

He knew he was running around, so they had to slow him down.

He said for those wondering about the red containers at the scene, he bought those at Walmart before the incident happened, and bystanders were using them for him to sit on and calm down.

Futrell was pleading for help from anyone nearby, and Conner remembers several people joined in with random clothing.

He said because of all the people there, his life was saved.

“There was enough people there to keep my attention. And that, plus (Futrell) putting her hand in my arm and doing the (tourniquet) and everybody sacrificing a piece of clothes, is what brought me where I could sit here today,” Conner said.

Conner even trusted one woman with his phone so his mom would know which hospital to go to.

“I handed her my phone. But she actually came and picked my mom up and took my mom to the hospital so my momma could be there,” Conner said.

Conner is truly grateful to be living another day because of the efforts from those strangers.

Now, Futrell isn’t so much of a stranger. Conner talks with her almost every day.

“I could say mercy walked in, because I was saved that day. The lady wasn’t even supposed to be there. She was supposed to be at Home Depot. But, instead she was there,” Conner said.

Conner is also grateful for his surgeons.

He believed his arm could’ve easily been amputated, but they worked hard to save it.

Thanks to his support system, his mom, grandmother, sister, nieces and nephew, at home recovery is tough and painful, but not as difficult as it would be without them.

Since the shooting, Conner has had a different look on life including a deeper appreciation for gun safety.

He said he relied too much on learning from others about how to handle his guns.

“This man taught me a trick of leaving one slug, or one bird shot, or one whatever, in your injector, and then you put the cable lock in. I forgot to put my cable lock in, which allowed it to chamber,” Conner said.

Conner said he’s always thought about gun safety. His handgun has two safety features, and he made sure he bought it like that.

He bought a cable lock and tried to add another safety feature for his shotgun. However, now he said an unloaded gun is the only safe gun.

“The safest way is to keep your guns unloaded at all times,” Conner said.

Connor said his ultimate message it to take things slow, enjoy life and keep your guns unloaded.

He has had three surgeries since the shooting and has a couple more left.

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