ATHENS — A faint, round, red spot just above his shirt collar is the only obvious physical evidence that something happened to Tate Prezzano nearly seven months ago.
However, inside the University of Georgia student’s body a bullet fragment remains lodged just one millimeter from his spinal cord after he was shot multiple times near campus.
“One millimeter. One ‘mm.’ It is the smallest measurement you can get in the metric system,” his father, Dobbin Prezzano, said.
To Prezzano and his father, the abbreviation “1 mm” has taken on a new meaning: “One man’s mission,” the tagline for the new foundation and scholarship program Tate Prezzano created in the wake of the shooting.
Prezzano introduced the foundation Wednesday morning at a news conference at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center, the hospital where he underwent his medical treatment after the shooting.
It was the 22-year-old’s first public appearance since the April 22 incident. Prezzano said the focus of his foundation, named the TateTough Foundation after the social media hashtag that began trending during his recovery, is to effect safety and security on college campuses.
Prezzano is part of UGA’s club lacrosse team and played lacrosse and football at Cambridge High School in Milton.
As the junior communications major was waiting at an Athens bus stop, a man approached him, robbed him and shot him multiple times in the upper part of his body.
“Few incidents are more concerning than a young man standing at the bus stop, waiting to go to college, that is accosted by an armed assailant, robbed and shot,” Athens-Clarke County police Chief Cleveland Spruill said in a news conference after the shooting.
It happened about 7:15 a.m. the Monday after Easter, Prezzano said. His bus was scheduled to arrive at 7:18 a.m.
He said he saw something move out of the corner of his eye, and when he looked up a man was pointing a gun at him.
Prezzano was hit in the shoulder, in the neck and in the back of the head. He laid bleeding on the sidewalk, watching cars go by and hoping one would stop.
“I actually saw my bus go by,” he said.
One man pulled over. Phil Haymore, who manages the intensive care unit at Piedmont Athens, was on his way to work when he saw Prezzano on the ground.
“I have a son at UGA. He’s right around Tate’s age,” Haymore said. “As far as I’m concerned, my son was laying on the sidewalk.”
Haymore provided care for Prezzano until emergency medical services arrived and took him to the hospital. He remained there for six days.
A second UGA student was also robbed at gunpoint near the bus stop, which is just south of campus and the Athens Perimeter. That student was not hurt in the incident, which occurred moments before Prezzano was shot.
He was able to give police a description of the suspect, which was used to create a sketch. It depicted a man with medium-length braids or dreads.
Not long after the sketch was released, GBI special agent Mike Ayers said tips started pouring in from community members.
Zarren Garner, 20, of Grayson, was arrested in Gwinnett County the next morning. Spruill said they were able to identify Garner through a number of citizen tips and because of the man’s prior “low-level criminal background.”
Thus began Tate Prezzano’s recovery process. He said he spent about five days a week in physical therapy over the summer. He wasn’t able to take summer classes for his major.
“His typical regimen over the summer of academics and athletics ... was going to be replaced by physical therapy, occupational therapy, aquatic therapy,” his father said.
The foundation is part of Prezzano’s recovery process. The first pillar of its three-part mission is to support Prezzano throughout his doctor visits, therapy sessions and various treatments.
The second part, Prezzano said, is to encourage other athletes.
“Our goal is to promote funding for scholarships at two schools that have been an integral part of and made an impression on Tate: The University of Georgia and Cambridge High School,” the TateTough website said. “The Foundation will award a $1,000 scholarship to one University of Georgia lacrosse player and one Cambridge High School athlete each year that the Foundation can support the effort.”
“This scholarship is going to go to the person (we) feel exemplifies what the ultimate teammate would be,” Prezzano said. “The ultimate teammate, in my opinion, is not necessarily the ‘rah-rah’ guy. It’s not necessarily the all-star or the best player. He’s the kind of person that would come off the field if he needs to, he would go on the field and play a different position, or just kind of do whatever is asked and be reliable.”
But invaluable to the TateTough Foundation is the need to augment campus safety, Prezzano said. The foundation is working with UGA to explore options to make the campus safer, such as improved kiosks and phone apps that would allow for a more immediate response in the case of an emergency.
Campus safety is at the top of his mind now that Prezzano has resumed taking classes at UGA.
He is still undergoing physical therapy three times a week. However, he is taking 16 credit hours this semester, he said. After 15 more in the spring and one hour during a May semester, Prezzano will walk with his graduating class, he said.
Prezzano said he hopes the foundation’s mission of encouraging campus safety can reach other colleges. He wants his story to help other students be cognizant of their surroundings.
“We are still figuring the world out,” he said. “We don’t know what to look for.”
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