RICHMOND -- Dominique Romero and her stepdad were watching TV in their living room when they heard gunfire outside and dove to the floor.
Seconds later, Romero, 19, realized she had been hit. A bullet had struck her left elbow, passed through her body and lodged in her spine.
After Romero was airlifted to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, she and her family awaited her fate. The doctor delivered good news and bad news -- she would live, but she would never walk again.
But Romero is determined to prove the doctors wrong. Less than two weeks after she was shot, Romero started moving her left leg. Now, she can fully extend that leg and can raise her right thigh slightly while sitting in a wheelchair.
Her goal is to walk with leg braces and a walker by the end of the year. She also hopes to enroll in community college and to become a pharmacy technician.
She has gotten support from family, friends and people she doesn't even know. But she said she likely wouldn't be here without quick action by her stepfather.
"As soon as it happened, he instantly grabbed a towel and put pressure on it," Romero said of her stepfather, during a Saturday gathering exactly 10 weeks after the Dec. 14 shooting that left her paralyzed from the waist down. "I'm pretty sure he saved my life, acting so fast. I'm glad he was there."
Romero's stepfather, Chester Thomas, 67, said his CPR training helped him stop the bleeding.
"I was sitting there hoping she's not taking her last breath with me," he recalled.
The family took the news of her paralysis very hard.
Romero's brother, Chris Solis, 26, said he felt lightheaded and had to sit down because he thought he might faint. But Romero, Thomas said, took the news better than anyone.
"She basically said, 'I'd rather be paralyzed than dead,'" Thomas said. "And she's showing us each and every day that she's glad to be here. She's keeping me inspired."
Solis said his sister was more concerned about him than about herself.
"Less than a minute after hearing, 'You're paralyzed for life,' she was saying, 'Check on my brother,'" Solis recalled. "She was asking me, 'Are you OK?' If it was me, I would have been screaming and crying. It's kind of like give and take. We're being her support, while she's being ours."
Romero's upbeat attitude and can-do spirit are having a positive effect on her recovery.
"I just thank God every day that I'm still here," Romero said. "I didn't go through depression, because it could have been much worse."
Her boyfriend, Mariano Skinner, has been by her side throughout her recovery, helping her to dress, move from her bed to her wheelchair and go to the bathroom. As soon as Romero was released from rehab last Friday, she and Skinner moved to Sacramento, where she plans to continue outpatient rehabilitation.
She said had planned to leave Richmond even before the shooting.
"I've wanted to leave Richmond because it's just a bad city," she said. "I feel like the crime is going up every year. I've lived in the same house 17 years and there have been shootings on that block before."
She hopes police will continue to pursue the shooter, who has not been caught. She also wants the city to crack down on people carrying guns on the streets.
"Bullets have no name on them," she said, "and they can basically hit anyone, like me."
To those shooting guns in her neighborhood, Romero has this message: "They almost took an innocent person's life, so what does that tell you about using a gun?"
Kanwarpal Dhaliwal, community health director for the nonprofit RYSE Center, which hosted the gathering for Romero, said her organization helps victims of violent crime, ages 12 to 24, through its Restorative Pathways Project. "Richmond is a really hard place to be a young person," she said.
Yet, Romero, her family and the RYSE Center were also celebrating the support Romero has received from friends as well as strangers, through two online fundraising efforts and a fundraiser by the 66th MOB, or Making Oakland Better, which raised $1,400 during a Raiders tailgate event.
"I'm really thankful for everybody that has stood behind me the whole time," Romero said, "even people I didn't know."
Her aunt, Victoria Casillas, 56, of Concord, said Romero is a role model for her family and community.
"No one has a reason to whine or pout when they take one look at her," she said. "She's a soldier. With a smile on her face, she has not stopped fighting. She's going to do big things in her life. Nothing's going to stop her."
To see video clips of Dominique Romero talking about being shot by a stray bullet in her Richmond home, go to www.contracostatimes.com/crime.
To contribute to Romero's recovery, go to www.youcaring.com and search on "Dominique Romero" or go to http://gvsfoundation.org/survivors/dominiquess-miracle.
More information about the RYSE Center is available by calling 510-579-1922 or at www.rysecenter.org.