ATLANTA — Within hours of landing in Atlanta while on vacation from Erie, Pennsylvania, Emery Sparks was shot three times. His wife, Erica, witnessed it all.
What was supposed to be a trip to visit friends and family in early August, ended up being the worst weekend of their lives. Thankfully, Emery survived and is now sharing his story.
"I saw the gun and I was shot by him," he recalled. "I was laying on the ground and that's when everybody ran towards me. That was a really bad moment. I thought I was getting ready to lose my life at that point."
Emery says that after getting food and drinks for about 30 minutes at Views Bar & Grill, a valet drove their rental car back to them and handed him his keys.
At that moment, he says a man in his early 20's jumped inside the unlocked vehicle, attempting to steal it. When Emery went to see what was going on, he was shot.
Erica says that's when another teenager pulled up in the getaway car and shot again.
"He shot him one time and then he just kept shooting again," she said, wiping tears off her cheeks. "They were just shooting him as if he wasn't nobody or nothing at all, for no reason.”
They say they specifically get valet because they consider it to be safer. Instead, Emery was shot twice in the stomach and once on his arm.
He remembers thinking of his three kids while taking what he thought would be his last breath. His kids, who were also on vacation with their parents, were staying with another family member while Emery and Erica went to get dinner.
"I thought about seeing them grow up and seeing my grandkids," Emery said. "I told my wife to tell my kids that I love them and I want them to be all that they can be because I knew I was shot. Multiple times. I felt the pain lying on the ground."
Emery said he remembers paramedics putting him in the ambulance. He was taken to Grady Hospital, where he underwent seven hours of surgery.
"Because of COVID, you're not allowed into the recovery area. At that time, I still had his blood all over me so I went to get changed," Erica explained. "But then I came right back afterward and just waited. When I saw him, I literally almost passed out."
Doctors came into the room to let her know everything would be okay, but it wasn't until a few days later when Emery finally woke up.
"I couldn't believe it. I thought maybe this was my afterlife," he said. "I didn't know. I thought I was gone.”
The rise in crime in Atlanta is evident even for the couple who visits family and friends in the city often.
“I never experienced this," Emery added. "Atlanta has gotten bad with all the gun violence here, since the pandemic.”
According to data from Atlanta police, there has been a rise in murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, larceny, and auto theft year to date compared to this same time last year.
The city, in that same comparison period, has only seen a decrease in burglaries from 2021 compared to 2020.
Meanwhile, the number of shooting incidents has gone up by 29%.
"I'm so blessed because some people don't make it through," Emery said.
Erica said her husband is the breadwinner of the family but he will have to stay in Atlanta through at least March for more surgeries.
There's a fundraiser set up to help the family with those expenses and to help Erica travel back and forth from Pennsylvania.
"I was really skeptical of doing the GoFundMe... we don't ask people for a lot of help most of the time," Erica said. "I just didn't want to share the hurt that I was going through when everybody had to know, really what happened to him. But he is the only one that works. He works for a state prison as a corrections officer."
To donate to the Sparks family, click here.