Crime Tracker: Mary Shepard's Fight

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By Sam Jones
By Benjy Jeffords

UNION COUNTY-- You may remember Mary Shepard's story. She was assaulted in an Anna church four and a half years ago. During her long and difficult recovery, she became a strong advocate for gun rights and sued the state to allow concealed carry. Next month, she's expected to be one of the first to get her permit.

"It's been a long 4 years," Shepard explained.

We all have days forever ingrained in our minds. For Shepard, it's September 29, 2009, one that changed the course of her life.

"I'm still shocked anybody could do that to another human being," she said.

While she worked as treasurer of First Baptist Church in Anna, Willis Bates entered, savagely beating Shepard and her friend.

"It was about seven days before they told my family, my daughter and granddaughter that I was gonna live," Shepard recalled.

She says the physical pain was unbearable, but the emotional scars a different obstacle altogether. 

Shepard doesn't know if a gun would've stopped the attack. Yet she feels it would have given her a fighting chance.

"In my mind, I think it would've made a difference," she added.

Given the cards Shepard was dealt, she fought back with activism.

"I'm hard headed and stubborn and was not going to give in to this person that beat me and left me for dead," Shepard explained.

She was an avid shooter for years before the attack, embracing the hobby even more after the assault. Just six months later, she joined the fight for concealed carry in Illinois..

"I talked about it as much as I could and I made a video," she shared.

Shepard hadn't been cleared to travel yet so the video was shown to legislators in Springfield. Thanks to the help of her friend Valinda Rowe with Illinoiscarry.com

"It's people like that that make change. It's people like that who make history. And I'm very proud to know her," Rowe enthused.

Rowe and Shepard later crisscrossed Illinois speaking at town hall meetings, rallying supporters and successfully suing the state. The effort paid off as concealed carry became the law of the land last July.

"There's a cost and we all wish it hadn't happened to her, but we're glad she turned it into something so wonderful," Rowe added.

Shepard is a symbol of hope to Rowe and others passionate about carrying. A woman who didn't let opposition get in the way of what she believed in. 

"I consider her a hero because a lot of people could've just pulled in. They could've hidden from the world," said Rowe.

After beating the odds, Shepard isn't ready to sit back just yet. There remains a ban on guns in churches: the scene of her attack.

"We still have a lot of work to do in Illinois on it," Shepard added.

 She says the victories won't seem real until she can pack heat in her hometown.

"I want it in my hand. I want to see it," enthused Shepard.

Mary is thrilled to see women more involved in shooting and the fight to conceal and carry. She says if anything good came of her assault, it's all of the people she's met along the way.

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