‘I’ve Got to Finish It’: North Carolina Man Left Paralyzed from the Neck Down In 2018 Shooting Uses His Cellphone’s Voice Command Feature to Complete Criminal Justice Degree

Four years after being paralyzed by a gunman’s bullet at an outdoor gathering, a former athlete graduated from a historically Black university. Beating all odds, he managed to matriculate through the institution after learning how to complete his studies through the use of technology.

On Saturday, April 30, 2022, Howard Boone Jr. graduated from Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh, North Carolina, with his bachelor’s degree despite enduring a life-changing injury that paralyzed him from the neck down during his junior year. Boone had to learn to utilize his iPhone voice command feature to write his assignments.

I've Got to Finish It': North Carolina Man Left Paralyzed from the Neck Down In 2018 Shooting Uses His Cellphone's Voice Command Feature to Complete Criminal Justice Degree
Howard Boone, Jr. (Peggy Hines GofundMe Screengrab)

The onetime high football, baseball, and lacrosse player decided to join the military after graduating high school. That experience yielded him a four-year scholarship to the Raleigh institution, which was founded in 1867 to educate formerly enslaved Black people.

“That was one of the main things about why I joined the military, because I didn’t have a sense of direction,” Boone told local station WRAL in an interview about his accomplishment. “So, I was in the U.S. Army Reserves.”

During his junior year, after being initiated into the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, he went to a gathering in downtown Columbia, South Carolina, where he became a victim of gun violence at the age of 23.

TheState newspaper reports Boone Jr. was one of three innocent bystanders hurt during the shooting on March 18, 2018, in the Five Points nightlife district.

“It was a celebration downtown right, so a whole bunch of people,” Boone said about the 2018 St. Patrick’s Day weekend event. “Shots rang out, but when everybody dispersed, I’m the only one left.”

Footage from a surveillance camera confirms his story, showing a crowd of people running across an intersection after gunfire sprayed in the open area. Boone is seen on the ground, unable to get up. He had been shot in his neck.

Boone said, “I was in a sedated coma for almost two weeks before I actually woke up. I coded twice, on the scene and again during surgery.”

He said when he woke up, weeks later, he had tubes all over his body and was unable to move his arms and legs. The prognosis: the bullet severed his spinal cord, paralyzing him from the neck down.

“Going back to football and sports, I had never really experienced an injury, so in the back of my mind I’m like is this how it feels to tear an ACL and go through surgery?” Boone shared. 

“I’m like, OK, well give me about two weeks and I’ll be back on my feet, we good,’” he says he thought, but that never would be his reality.

He tried to enter rehabilitation, even going to the Shepherd Center spinal injury hospital in Atlanta, but because he still needed a ventilator to breathe, the recovery process was not successful.

He became depressed, but while in rehab another victim of gun violence, who suffered similar injuries gave him hope. He remembered, “He rolled into the room, and I’m sitting just looking at the wall and just crying.”

“That moment gave me more perspective on me being in rehab, and it kind of opened my eyes a little bit,” he recalled, marveling at someone being in the same predicament as him. He refocused and decided to return to school to finish his degree in criminal justice.

He said, “If I start something, I’ve got to finish it. And so when I got shot I was going into my senior year.”

In the years since the life-altering injury he also turned to writing poetry.

“I just started writing what was on my mind,” Boone told local station CBS17 last month. “It was almost like therapy.”

With his graduation goal accomplished, Boone, who is cared for at home by nurses during the day and his mother at night, still seeks to get off the ventilator and perhaps publish his poetry and do nonprofit work.

As he relayed to Spectrum News1 outlet last month, “Even when you feel like giving up or quitting sometimes, you got to push through because people are still watching.”

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