0

Stray bullet hits Hampton woman on New Year's

By Ed Brock

Aimee Buff of Hampton was already nervous about going to the Atlanta Peach Drop on New Year's Eve for the first time.

Now, with a bullet still in her neck that came from nowhere while she was watching the fireworks at the crowded celebration, the 27-year-old Buff said she'll be spending future celebrations at home with her family.

"I don't want to be around large groups of people anymore," she said.

Buff was standing on a ledge near the Peach Drop at Underground Atlanta when the bullet hit her. She was there with her fianc?, 31-year-old Jason Muniz of Stockbridge, to celebrate her Jan. 1 birthday and the anniversary of Muniz's proposal to her.

"I was looking up and I felt a horrible pain in my ear and the left side of my neck," Buff said.

She put a hand to her ear and was surprised by the amount of blood coming from the wound.

"Both of my hands were just covered in blood," Buff said.

It didn't occur to either Buff or Muniz that she had been shot.

"I thought somebody had either thrown a bottle or cut her on the neck," Muniz said.

They pushed through the crowd and walked two blocks before they found police officers who also thought Buff had only been cut on the ear.

"The blood kept coming out. I kept crying and screaming because it hurt so bad," Buff said.

It was only after she was taken to Crawford Long Hospital that Muniz, not a doctor, discovered the hole in her neck which had been covered by her hair that was matted with blood.

"He said you weren't hit by something, you were shot," Buff said, saying she credits Muniz with saving her life.

Muniz said he had thought he heard a gunshot shortly before the incident, but he isn't sure if it was the shot that hit Buff.

"I shoot on a regular basis and I can tell the difference between a firework and a round going off," Muniz said.

Buff had been shot with a large-caliber handgun, police later said. The angle of the wound indicated the bullet had come from above where Buff was standing, Atlanta Police Sgt. John Quigley said.

Doctors have had to leave the bullet where it is because an operation so close to her spine would be too risky. But Buff said she will have to undergo physical therapy and may have to undergo emergency surgery if the wound gets infected.

She said she decided to come forward with her story so the person who fired the shot would know what kind of pain and suffering she will go through, though she doesn't wish the same pain on them.

"This is going to be costing me tons of money for somebody's stupid mistake," Buff said.

Muniz said he's angry that somebody is "nuts enough" to fire a gun in a crowded area, and he wants to see justice done even though he doubts the person will ever be caught. His primary concern, however, is that Buff gets better.

"I'm just glad that she's alive," Muniz said. "She's very lucky to be alive."

Both Buff and Muniz work for Delta, Buff as a ticket agent, and her "Delta family" has been very supportive, said Buff's mother, Jane Buff.

"They've come and checked on her," Buff said.

Her daughter didn't come to the media with her story at first because she was in the hospital and after coming home on Monday they were all too drained. However, friends urged Aimee Buff to let others know about her story in the hopes that it will serve as a warning.

This isn't the first time the Buff family has been affected by stray bullets on New Year's Eve. On the eve of 2001 a stray bullet that was fired in the family's neighborhood hit their car, Buff's father Larry Buff said.

Buff is an alumni of Lovejoy High School.

The incident happened just blocks from the Georgia Dome where another woman, Merritt Tidwell, was hit in the leg by a stray bullet that came through the roof of the arena.

An Atlanta city ordinance forbids firing a weapon without permission within city limits, but police say arrests are difficult during celebrations.

"If the fireworks are going off at the time someone discharges a weapon, you can't necessarily tell the difference," Quigley said. "It's also unusual for officers deployed for crowd control to actually encounter someone discharging a weapon because they aren't going to do it where officers are present."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.