ITALY, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – Two summers ago, Noelle Jones used a pencil to meticulously sketch an eyeball which appeared to be filled with flowing tears.
She had just finished an exclusive interview with the CBS 11 I-Team. Her head was down. She was quiet and completely focused.
”Art is my outlet,” Jones explained. She admitted her work was dark.
Two years later, looking back, the now 18-year-old says, “I was a very scared person. I was very mean. I was very angry.”
Today that has completely changed.
“My art has changed a lot.” Sharing brightly colored drawings on canvases covered in red, orange, and yellow, she said, “They are just more vibrant and more appeasing to look at.”
Jones says the images reflect who she was then and who she is today.
In a stark contrast to the I-Team interview from June 2018, now Jones leans back in her chair laughing out loud with a smile from ear to ear.
“I’ve learned to smile a lot more. I think I’ve matured and I’ve accepted the fact it happened.”
On the morning of January 22, 2018, in the Italy High School cafeteria, someone, who Jones thought was her friend, brought a gun to school in a backpack. He took it out before classes started and shot Jones six times.
She suffered a fractured pelvis, bruised liver and nerve damage, but miraculously the bullets missed every major organ.
Doctors removed 12 inches of her small intestine.
Recently doctors diagnosed Jones with short bowel syndrome.
She still suffers from shoulder issues, trouble breathing, and she can’t run, but she is in a very different place.
Two years ago, wounds for bullet entrances and exits covered her body.
Mirrors provided constant reminders of the misery. She told us how ever shower brought back the physical and mental pain. She said she could hear the gunshots.
“I don’t hear the gunshots,” Jones says confidently now.
Pointing at the scars, she says, “I look at them and I’m like, ok, this is how I look.” With her head held high, she smiles, “I”m beautiful.”
The once red, round dime-sized mark in the middle of her neck is gone. “You can’t even see it’s there.”
Small pinkish dots on her arms now look more like a mosquito attack. “These, they really just look like bug bites or something.”
And the 12-inch scar left behind by surgeons, who cut out parts of her intestines to save her life, is fading.
“This is the incision,” she lifts her shirt. “The two on the side you can barely tell they are there anymore.”
HEALING INSIDE AND OUT
Jones has not only healed on the outside, but also the inside.
She has continued therapy daily and returned to classes at Italy High School.
But there were setbacks.
Earlier this year, her father had a heart attack. It’s something she still finds difficult to discuss.
“It’s still scary and he’s still recovering.”
While he was in the hospital, she moved in with a friend for months while her mother worked and cared for him. Jones says just getting to school was a challenge.
But now, her dad is home. “My dad is my hero!”
She’s focused on the computer screen as the interview with the I-Team continue, but suddenly she’s looking off to her right and her face lights up. You hear a man in the distance speaking.
She suddenly smiles and repeats his words, “I am a strong survivor, thank you, Dad.”
Jones puts her arm out as her father suddenly appears on the computer screen. He has walked into the kitchen and is listening to his daughter.
With his arm around Jones and his head held high, he proudly tells us he is not missing what is happening tomorrow.
While it wasn’t easy for her dad to muster the strength, and while Jones says she thought this day would never come, on May 29, 2020, she heard her the words “Mahkayla….Noelle…Jones…” slowly, loudly, echoed in a stadium filled with her dad, mom, family and friends.
It was the moment they’d been waiting for.
“I did not know I was going to make it to the point where I’m walking across the stage getting my diploma.”
Jones walked across the stage, got her diploma, and graduated with the rest of her Italy High School class.
She is now headed to college to one day become an art teacher or art therapist to help others heal using the therapy that helped her. “I want to be part of something if it’s going to make a difference.”
Italy High School once marked a nightmare for Jones and her family.
But a couple of weeks ago, with the sounds of Pomp and Circumstance filling the stadium, it, instead, became a a place where dreams are made.