TIME

THE POISON IN THEIR BLOOD

They survived mass shootings, but the bullets could still kill them
Sarah Salazar survived a mass shooting, but an X-ray shows the shotgun pellets still in her body

COLIN GODDARD LAY IN A POOL OF HIS OWN BLOOD, HOPING HIS racing heart would not tip off the approaching gunman that he was still alive. The shooter hovered over Goddard, paused and fired two more bullets into him anyway.

Goddard survived the April 16, 2007, massacre at Virginia Tech, which killed 32 people and was the worst school shooting in U.S. history. Twelve years later, he tries not to dwell on the day, but he has dozens of constant reminders: bullet fragments lodged in his body, leaching toxins into his blood.

Like hundreds and possibly thousands of shooting survivors across the country, Goddard, a 33-year-old father of two, is suffering a lesser-known side effect of gun violence: lead poisoning. When he was shot in his French class that spring day, three bullets shattered when they hit his hips and left knee. Because the fragments did not pose life-threatening risks, trauma surgeons left them in his body—a common and widely accepted practice in emergency rooms. Now, with his blood lead levels seven times higher than what is considered safe, Goddard faces long-term health risks, including neurological problems, kidney dysfunction and reproductive issues.

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