Chivas Sandage & Kristene Chapa

On the night of June 22, 2012, a lone gunman assaulted and then shot, execution-style, a teenage lesbian couple in a suburban south Texas park. Nine hours later, bird watchers found Mollie Judith Olgin, 19, and Mary “Kristene” Chapa, 18, on a windy coastal bluff that slopes into Corpus Christi Bay. Mollie was already dead. When Kristene woke in a hospital, she could not speak, open her eyes, or move her left side, but she remembered the gunman’s face.

As Kristene gained strength, she began to sign with her right hand—at first her only way to communicate—and helped police create a composite sketch of the gunman. She spent the next three and a half months living in rehabilitation centers where she worked hard to prove her doctors wrong. Her sense of humor, refusal to pity herself, and stubborn courage inspired many across the nation. She posted “I Take Bullets” as her tagline on Twitter, threw herself into a swimming pool to keep her therapists on their toes, and as a former MVP on her high school softball team, threw the first pitch of her team’s next season.

On June 20, 2014, the alleged gunman and his wife were arrested two days before the second anniversary of the shooting. David Malcolm Strickland, 27, was charged with capital murder, aggravated sexual assault, and aggravated assault. Laura Strickland, 23, faced charges of tampering with evidence. Four months later, charges against Laura were dropped. According to the D.A., evidence links David to the murder—a man who mixed with female mourners during a vigil and smirked in mug shots.

Salt Wind Redemption: Love and Murder in South Texas explores tragedy and a search for justice set against changing attitudes about sexual orientation and gender identity in the contemporary American South. As Bruce Dern recently said of Wild, this story is “about tough people.” Salt Wind Redemption is about a distinct brand of tough people—south Texans. Even Mollie’s ghost is gritty. Kristene Chapa’s own writing and intimate voice weaves throughout the book, telling a remarkable love story, how she continues to reclaim her body and her life, and where she finds her courage. Among the growing number of tragedies caused by gun violence, too rare are the voices of victims who survive—especially young women like Kristene Chapa who thrive despite all odds.

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