Hailed as a hero, a Shasta Lake man made what doctors called an outstanding recovery 17 months after he was shot four times.
William Travis Barber, 35, has a three-inch bald patch on the back of his head where he was pistol whipped and scars where bullets went through his head and right hand, and where he was shot on the shin and groin. Doctors removed half of his skull for several months, then replaced it when his injuries healed sufficiently.
He’s doing fine, Barber said at a Zoom press conference. The incident taught him how fortunate he was to have so many friends and how special his girlfriend of five years was to him.
“It took a gunshot to the head” to get him to think seriously about marriage, said Daisha Barber while her husband chuckled. The couple wedded on Oct. 22, 2021. “He was always quick witted. He’s still the same guy.”
Things weren’t always jovial.
On April 18, 2021, Barber, his family and an unnamed 41-year-old friend were wrapping up a fishing trip at the Salt Creek Inlet near the old Highway 99 bridge, according to an investigative report from the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office. A man approached them, shouted a racial slur and shot in the back Barber’s friend who is Black.
Barber stepped in to defend his friend, family and his future bride during the attack, witnesses said.
“This hand saved my life,” said Daisha Barber, holding her husband’s right hand, his dominant one. “He’s a hero.”
The friend was treated for his injuries and released, according to the sheriff’s office.
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But when Barber arrived at Mercy Medical Center in Redding on April 18, 2021, doctors doubted he would live. They placed him in a drug-induced coma and told his family and Daisha to say their goodbyes.
When he survived the night, doctors said he would probably be “a vegetable,” unable to talk or walk, Daisha Barber said. To everyone’s delight, he improved — although when he was released from Mercy 15 days later, he “didn’t really know his name.”
Barber, who goes by his middle name Travis, spent 2.5 weeks at Sutter Rehabilitation Institute in Roseville learning how to speak, swallow, balance and walk.
Daisha Barber commuted to Sutter, speaking for him when he couldn’t talk and bringing her 13-year-old daughter and the family dog “Cookie” to cheer him.
“I never suspected and felt that kind of love and support,” Barber said. “I wanted to be able to live a normal life, like I’m living right now. I don’t know if I’ll ever be 100% again, and I’m OK with that.”
“Travis is a tough guy,” said Sutter’s director Dr. Adora Matthews, who called Barber an “ideal patient.” While hard won, it’s unusual for someone with a brain injury to recover as much as he did.
Barber pressed his luck further when he left Sutter, celebrating with a visit to Hard Rock Casino in Wheatland. He played three-card poker — a game he’d taught the nurses while hospitalized. He won a “couple hundred” bucks, Daisha Barber said.
Silas Matthew Hesselberg of Sacramento is being held on $2 million bail. He is charged with multiple felonies including two counts of attempted murder with enhancements for hate crimes and civil rights violations, according to the sheriff’s report. Hesselberg, who was 21 at the time of the attack, told detectives he called Barber’s friend the n-word, then took out a gun, sought out the man and shot him in the back.
When Barber tried to help, he and Hesselberg struggled, according to the report. Hesselberg shot Barber multiple times and the two men fell down an embankment, Barber scratching his eye in the fall. Hesselberg then shot Barber in the back of the head, discarded the gun and walked away.
“He’s a hero,” said Matthews, echoing statements from witnesses.
He doesn’t see himself that way, Barber said. “I consider myself a person who did the right thing.”
Jessica Skropanic is a features reporter for the Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. She covers science, arts, social issues and entertainment stories. Follow her on Twitter @RS_JSkropanic and on Facebook. Join Jessica in the Get Out! Nor Cal recreation Facebook group. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today. Thank you.
This article originally appeared on Redding Record Searchlight: Shasta Lake man recovers after shot 4 times during alleged hate crime