Christopher Sullivan, left, with his mother, Suzanne Sullivan. Sullivan,…
As the oldest brother in a single-parent home in San Bernardino, Christopher Sullivan always felt he had to look out for his family.
During his teenage years, he ran with gangs to help his mother pay the bills. When he joined the Army after high school, he would sometimes send his entire paycheck home. He wanted to make sure his mom and four siblings had new clothes and nice meals.
Last December, his unit was attacked by a suicide bomber in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Six men were killed in the explosion, but Sullivan survived. The 22-year-old spent much of the last year recovering at Ft. Campbell, Ky.
He came back to San Bernardino last week for Christmas. On Friday, his friends threw a party to celebrate his return. About 40 people attended.
About midnight, an argument over NFL football between Sullivan's younger brother and another man escalated, and the other man threw a punch. As Sullivan stepped in to help, the man allegedly pulled out a handgun and fired three shots, family members said. Sullivan was hit twice. One of the bullets shattered his spine.
Sullivan was hospitalized in critical condition, and his family and friends were still in shock Christmas Day. Doctors were waiting to perform surgery to remove one of the bullets, but they have told the family that Sullivan probably will be paralyzed from the neck down.
"I don't have any emotions. My emotions are none," said his mother, Suzanne Sullivan. "He didn't deserve it. He's an excellent son and an excellent man."
San Bernardino police said they were still investigating the incident but had no suspects. Sullivan's aunt, who asked not be identified, said the alleged shooter is believed to be affiliated with a local gang.
His mother and aunt said they were praying Sunday that Sullivan would regain movement at least in his upper body.
"I just can't see my nephew lying in bed for the rest of his life, not the way he was," his aunt said. "As long as he can move something, he can live a normal life."
Sullivan and his siblings grew up without their father and often lived in neighborhoods where gangs were active, his aunt said. Sullivan, a big, energetic child, always seemed to be the one defending himself and his brothers. He became involved with gangs as a teenager but later made the decision to "turn his life around," his aunt said.
In high school he found an outlet playing sports. He was a linebacker on San Bernardino High School's football team and also a member of the wrestling team. More recently, he was training as a mixed martial arts fighter, which his aunt said was his "ultimate dream."
He joined the military in September 2009 and was sent to Afghanistan the next June.
Fabian Salazar, a soldier who served with Sullivan in Afghanistan, said he was devastated by Sullivan's shooting. He said Sullivan had tried to escape gang life because he knew the result would be "prison or death."
"It's extremely hard for me right now because I know his past," Salazar said. "I know what he did to change himself."
Salazar described Sullivan as an easygoing soldier who was fearless in battle.
He said Sullivan was using the restroom last December when a suicide bomber crashed into the mud hut where his fellow soldiers were sleeping. The blast propelled Sullivan several feet and left him dizzy and disoriented, but he rushed back to try to rescue the other soldiers. Medics at the scene ordered him to stop digging when they saw blood coming out of his ears. He later received a Purple Heart.
Even after the attack, Sullivan pleaded with Army doctors to allow him to keep fighting, Salazar said. But he was sent back to Ft. Campbell because of a fractured sternum. Tests in Kentucky revealed additional damage to Sullivan's brain.
This summer, as his health improved, Sullivan fought in a professional mixed martial arts fight in Lawrenceburg, Ind. Salazar helped him train and sat in his corner that night.
"I've never seen anybody, ever, take a punch like him," Salazar said. "He knew no pain."
Salazar said he couldn't believe that Sullivan had been shot over such a "stupid" argument. But at the same time, he said, Sullivan would always stand up for his family.
"I know he would take a bullet for his brother," Salazar said. "And if you asked him again after all this … if he would take a bullet for him again, he would say yes. That's the type of person he is."