Heroism & Heartbreak: The Kenya Ellis Story

BENTON HARBOR, Mich.—Benton Harbor resident Kenya Ellis, the fourth victim in the Berrien County Courthouse shooting, is finally telling her story.

“I haven’t been able to watch any of the reports,” she said. “It brings back so many memories and there are already memories there that I’m trying to either get used to it or get rid of.”

It was supposed to be just another Monday, like any other Monday in Benton Harbor.

“I got to go to work, that was my thought, that was the only thing on my mind,” said Ellis.

But Monday, July 11, 2016 was different.

This time, Ellis had to make a detour across the bridge.

“My daughter called me that morning; she had to go to court,” she said.

She’d end up in a courtroom with an inmate named Larry Gordon.

At the time, Ellis didn’t suspect anything was out of the ordinary.

Things changed after Gordon was removed.

He got ahold of a deputy’s gun and that’s when the unthinkable happened.

“Once we hear the gunshot, we get down on the ground,” she said. “So now we’re on the ground and trying to get under the benches.”

She, her daughter and others had been hiding in the courtroom after shots rang out, but eventually decided to make a run for it.

They took to the hallway.

But so did an armed Gordon who had just killed two deputies, Ron Kienzle and Joe Zangaro.

Once he made it out, he headed in Ellis’s direction.

“This type of stuff happened on TV, you think, until you’re put in those shoes,” she said. “So then he turns to my 19 year old daughter, she was 19 years old at the time and he says, ‘well you come’ and I’m like ‘no, she’s only 19 years old, she hasn’t lived life.’ and he says, ‘ok, well you come then,’ I said ok, maybe I should’ve kept my mouth shut.”

Ellis said she was willing to protect her daughter at any cost.

“Just knowing your child is in danger will have you doing the craziest things,” she said.

With one gun in her back and several others pointed at the criminal holding her hostage, Kenya would become a casualty in the crossfire.

“I didn’t even pay attention to the fact that I had been shot, until I just felt a pain that I had never felt before and it was burning,” she said. “I’m like what is this? Then I felt the warm blood and I realized, ‘OK I had been shot so now I need to know where I was shot.’”

Ellis had been shot in the arm.

A deputy ushered her and her daughter back in the courtroom out of the hallway.

Her daughter used her sweater as a bandage for her wound.

“That day we were a support team and it was just that,” she said. “I was there to support her and she was there to support me and she’s been supporting me ever since.”

That support helped Ellis through what came next.

“I had 68 staples in my arm, I’ve had six to seven surgeries, anywhere from 1.5-3 hour surgeries and I’ve had my arm manipulated several times,” she said.

Over a year later, the physical scars are the least of her worries.

“As strong as I may think I am, I have bad days, I have really bad days,” said Ellis. “I have some days where I don’t want to go outside, or I don’t want to be with the world, I’d rather just be off to myself.”

Ellis said those bad days started adding up and time was passing her by.

She wanted to do something about it.

“I have to find things to do to make me not be emotional, or I have to put myself in places where I don’t have to worry about being emotional,” she said.

Ellis eventually found that place back at work as a security guard at Benton Harbor High School.

She had returned last fall just months after getting shot.

“I think I needed it, when I went back to work,” she said. “Because at least I knew there was something keeping me going.”

Ellis has a lot to keep her going, but she can’t help but feel hurt for the families of her two fallen heroes that day.

“I greatly appreciate what was done; I really do, because the way I felt that day, standing there with [Gordon] behind me and them shooting and all that stuff, to be able to walk out of it is enough to make me appreciate anybody that had any part in it,’ said Ellis.

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