Path Of The Bullet: An Interview With Thomas “Rusty” Scott of The Ward

by | Apr 18, 2022 | COMMUNITY

It’s a thing to be shot. Just ask someone who’s caught a bullet. They’ll tell you. Often with a pointed finger, lifted shirt, or a lifted pants leg. Sometimes with a sense of pride. They lived.

The thing with gunshots is that, normally, the entry wound is the easy part. Unless it’s in your eye or the back of your head or to another part of the body that can explode. The kneecaps are interchangeable with any of these, and all are injuries you generally don’t walk away from.

People say not to judge a book by its cover. Not to turn your back on a drug. People also say this about head injuries and gunshot wounds. Like most things, below the surface hides the real shit. Imagine opening the door to your apartment and a naked man on PCP is streaking mud down your hallway and doing cartwheels in your living room. The moving bullet inside your body is the same as that

A quick glance shows only the door is busted, but that won’t be for certain until someone goes inside to look around. Sometimes the PCP dude is just drooling on himself in a bedroom, and someone has to go in to pull him out. Other times he might’ve jumped off the balcony into a tree or crawled out the bathroom window if he got spooked by your Dachshund. Rarely do these people go out the same way they came in on their own.  

Now you check to see if anything is ripped up or broken. Might have to steam clean the muddy footprints from the carpet. Wipe down the countertops and doorknobs with Clorox. Put your underwear back in their drawer. If you’re lucky, it’s just a pain in the ass.

At face value, a bullet wound is a dime-sized cavity with a channel. If you’ve ever witnessed someone shoot a pig cadaver, you’ll know what I mean. Forensic pathologists use pig cadavers when experimenting with large vertebrates for practicality, since pig cadavers are analogous to the cadavers of humans. 

The trouble begins when the bullet has a name on it. Beer bottles and broad sides of barns usually don’t talk much, but people do. Someone in the ambulance has to keep the guy strapped to the gurney running his mouth so he doesn’t go into shock. 

The name written on three of the bullets in this article was Thomas “Rusty” Scott. Each was traveling at over 1,200 feet per second. Two struck him: one above the left elbow, exiting through the forearm, and one just above the left shoulder, coming out through the armpit. This happened on the evening of November 16, 2021, in the alley behind 310 West Broad Street in Jackson Ward — home of Rusty’s studio, The Ward

“I was working on a mix for Hewolf and finished up about 9:15,” Rusty said. “I packed up everything and walked downstairs to leave out the back, because we had been leaving [that way] for the past year. I opened the door after [setting] the alarm and noticed someone near the end of the alley, which is pretty common. There’s always somebody walking in an alley in Jackson Ward. Nothing [really] draws your attention, unless they’re yelling, or something’s loud, or they’re talking to themselves, so I paid no attention to it. I locked up and started walking down the alleyway and it’s one of those Jackson Ward alleyways; it’s only as [wide] as a car. Some alleys are like that [around here]. So, I’m almost at the end and I hear three shots, ‘pow, pow, pow’, in succession.”

After living in Richmond long enough you begin to differentiate between the sounds of late-night firecrackers and gun shots. Around certain holidays in parts of the city there’s a lot of both and it’s hard to tell them apart unless you’re paying attention.

Other times it’s the loudest sound in the area and everyone knows what they’ve just heard. The sirens following shortly thereafter let them know they were right. People scatter. Most go inside. A few hang around. Sometimes these gunshots show up on the local news. Almost feels like PowerBall odds that it’ll be someone you know. But this is Richmond, Virginia, and most people know most people.

The mixing board at The Ward

Thomas “Rusty” Scott has worked at Backstage on Broad Street, renting and selling lighting and sound equipment, for as long as I can remember. Maybe you know him too. On the third floor of the building is his recording studio, The Ward. At 39, he’s engineered or assisted on the recordings of a backpack-full of excellent releases from Richmond bands and musicians from around the area. He’s a professional at this, not just some dude in an attic with a mixing board calling himself a producer. If you bring up The Ward in conversation with a random metal guy at a bar in the city, chances are they’ll know someone who’s recorded there, or they’ve recorded at The Ward themselves. I have. 

Spend long enough around an area and you’ll start to see the same people. Maybe you’ll become friends, or just know each other, or maybe neither. Sometimes all you’ll get are identifying characteristics to substitute for their names. The lady with the Doberman. The old man always on the front porch. The death metal line-cook. Rusty didn’t know the person who shot him, and he didn’t get more than a glance at who it was. A big person wearing a dark hoodie. That’s it. 

“Literally, what I said was ‘Oh, shit,’ and somewhere between terrified and disbelief, I got up and started booking it home as calm as I could. I knew, I’d probably been hit because I lost feeling in my left hand almost immediately. [I was in] disbelief that this just happened. This couldn’t have just happened! [I was] a little terrified because I didn’t know if this person was still behind me. They might shoot at me again. So, I just booked it [because] I only live a block away from the studio.”

The urge to blurt out Did they catch them? was like a charley horse, or an itch in the middle of your back, or the impulse to flip to the end of a Stephen King novel.

“I threw [my backpack] inside and called 911. Told them I got shot and, like, four cops showed up and they drove right by where the alley [is] and then four more stopped at my house. So, there were, like, eight cops running around.”

By the time Rusty was taken by ambulance to MCV, he’d already lost his clothes, gotten x-rays, spoken to a detective, and repeated the shooting story to an assembly line of nurses and emergency personnel. It was a long time before he got anything for the pain. 

“I [was] starting to panic a little bit,” he said. “My left hand hurt a lot. A constant, throbbing pain from all the extra fluid. I suppose it really started picking up more in the hospital because the initial adrenaline [was] wearing down. I asked someone, ‘Where are the drugs?’ And they’re like, ‘Don’t worry, son, the Go Juice has come in.’ I’m like, ‘What is this — fucking Top Gun?’ My legs started shaking violently, like, the onset of shock. The only access point is in my right arm and that starts shaking and now, I’m flipping out.”

Rusty finally got something in a drip for the pain, but this event foreshadowed most of his stay at MCV. The majority of it was spent waiting. He was given the title Trauma Emperor in the hospital patient registry, which is standard for victims of violent crimes in the ER; to be listed under an alias, just in case the bad guys come looking for them. Even still, the name wasn’t a compliment. It became a two steps forward, two steps back line dance with the ER personnel. Each time he was prepared for surgery, it was bumped for something more urgent. Prepared again. Bumped again. This went on for a while. COVID restrictions made this doubly hard. And all of it meant no food and no water.

Rusty waited on a gurney in an ER hallway for almost two days. From where the gurney was parked, he could watch the ambulances make their deliveries of new patients. Almost like they were pizzas or flowers. Sometimes he’d pass out and wake up in pain. There was a button to press every 10 minutes for morphine and there was an IV continuously pumping in fluids to keep his body hydrated. He was delirious from the lack of food and lack of sleep. It had been over 36 hours and he’d been shot twice. Sometime on Thursday, orderlies moved Rusty to a room with a hospital bed. Doctors performed surgery Friday morning, inserting nine screws and a brace into his forearm to secure the shattered bone. He finally got to go home Saturday afternoon. 

“A four-and-a-half-day ordeal,” he said.

“I got home the week before Thanksgiving. Three weeks [later], I get a phone call from the detective. I’ve been paranoid that someone’s after me. I have no idea who this person is or what their motive is. Everyone’s got theories, so it’s like going down the rabbit hole. The detective [tells me], ‘We caught the person that shot you.’”

I asked how the cops caught them.

“Turns out, it was a female that shot me,” he said. “And she had [also] committed a homicide. [The Richmond Police Dept.] were able to retrieve the firearm, which they told me was a 9mm. They were able to run ballistics because they recovered shell casings and the slug that went through me. They [did] forensics and matched the bullets to the gun and caught [her].”

“Did she kill this person before shooting you, or did she shoot you and then someone else?” I asked.

“She killed somebody after me.” 

“What’s her name?” I asked.

“They didn’t tell me,” he said. “My detective hadn’t talked to [the alleged shooter]. The detective that had talked to her said she told him she has issues and hears voices. They hypothesize she worked around where my studio is and where I live. Maybe she had gotten off work and something set her off mentally. [The police] are alluding to she heard voices that [told her] to shoot me, and that’s about all I’ve gotten.”

‘And that’s it?” I asked.

“I have not officially received anything saying, Come to court.’”

When this eventually goes to trial, the prosecution will want a First-Degree murder conviction for the victim shot after Rusty. This crime supersedes the attempted murder charge the prosecution would go for had the crime been an isolated incident. Like his stay at MCV, this will also require a lot of waiting. Might as well try to get comfortable. 

“They might just get her to take the guilty plea for murder, and they’ll probably just not have mine, would be my assumption. The way our justice system works is if they can get you to plead guilty to murder, they’re gonna take that charge and drop the other ones, or not press the [other] charge.”

Have something like this happen to you and you’ll want to wear sweatpants all the time. Not just because they’re comfortable, it’s because you can and no one can say shit about it. The body isn’t the only thing that needs to wear the sweatpants. The path of the bullet isn’t just outlined by the wound. Like the PCP man, the bullet goes all over the place, wrecks things you can’t see, and leaves you there. It’s more than just cosmetic damage. The mud tracked in might never come out – no matter how much you steam-clean the carpet. The mud can walk itself right up to your brain. The sweatpants make a lot of sense.

It’s a thing to be shot. Paying for it is something else. 

“I was fortunate that some of the guys that work out of the studio, Ricky Olson and Brian Walthall, literally got together the day after this happened and started a GoFundMe page. [It] raised a lot of money to help me with medical bills. It’s insane. It’s just – it’s humbling in a way. Most of the time in life, you just have five or ten people that you talk to on a regular basis, but to have, like 100 or 300 people, it’s kind of overwhelming. It was super humbling, and makes you realize that you have affected a lot of lives in a positive way. And a lot of those lives are, of course, associated with just being involved in the music scene and recording a lot of underground artists and independent shit that’s going on.”

I didn’t ask Rusty what the amount of his hospital bill was, because it’s none of my business. He told me MCV mailed an itemized list which had a number at the bottom he wasn’t very happy with. However, he thought the ambulance ride was money well spent. Rusty said he was going to contact MCV to begin a new argument with the staff, this one over the amount owed. Return of the Trauma Emperor.

90 people were killed by gunshots in Richmond last year — the most since 2004. 41 of these cases are still unsolved. If Rusty had moved six inches to the left, this would be an entirely different piece. That number could’ve been 91. Each of the stories is its own nightmare for everyone. If you ask around, maybe you can find out who the folks were. This is Richmond, VA, and most people know most people.

What do you say to that?

You can say a lot. This could be an entire article dedicated to arguments on gun control and mental illness and the medical practices in this country. Maybe it should be an article on that. But it isn’t.

Somebody told me once “no birth is easy.” I think that adage also works here.  

Rusty will have months of physical therapy to regain the usage of his left arm. He can’t play guitar at the moment, and he can’t do a lot of things most people with the use of both limbs take for granted, but Rusty has returned to work at Backstage and to his place behind the Amek ANGELA II in the control room of The Ward

Things are just sore now, but the Rusty I know didn’t change. He is the same cranky, thorough, opinionated, realist engineer I’ve called my friend for a lot of years. I’m glad the mud didn’t walk itself right up to his brain. I’m glad he wasn’t six inches farther to the left. The path of the bullet was merciful to a lot of people in this instance. 

It’s a thing to be shot.

All Photos by Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent

Ryan Kent is the author of the collections, Poems For Dead People, This Is Why I Am Insane, Hit Me When I'm Pretty, and Everything Is On Fire: Selected Poems 2014-2021. He has also co-authored the poetry collections, Tomorrow Ruined Today, and Some Of Us Love You (both with Brett Lloyd). His spoken word record, Dying Comes With Age, will be released by Rare Bird Books in 2022. Ryan is a staff writer for RVA Magazine and maintains a pack a day habit. (photo by D. Randall Blythe)

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