Student relives Polar Bear shooting

By Bill Lukitsch, @Bill_LukitschDE

The SIUC student who was shot and mugged during Polar Bear weekend said he is recovering well and feels lucky to have escaped death.

Spencer DePue, a senior from Bolingbrook studying management, spent Jan. 30 with friends at Pinch Penny Pub before leaving about 4 p.m. to take a nap. It was almost sunset when DePue, 22, left his apartment for coffee at Common Grounds and dinner at Trueblood Hall.

As he was walking on South Cedarview Street, he decided to take a shortcut through Tatum Heights Park.


“Right at that moment I noticed there was a guy kind of on my flank,” DePue said. “The next thing I know he’s pointing a gun at me.”

The man wanted his wallet and cell phone.

In retrospect DePue said he would have fared better had he simply surrendered his belongings. He said when he went for the gun, he was fairly confident he “could take” his assailant, who was a relatively shorter man with a smaller frame.

DePue removed the wallet from his pocket and held it two feet away from the gun. He dropped it on the ground, attempting to distract the gunman’s gaze. He hesitated for just a moment before taking a long step toward the gunman — a half-measure that nearly cost him his life. 

“Basically, I jumped the gun, no pun intended,” DePue said.

The shooter pedaled backward slightly, swung his right arm to the left and fired. DePue saw sparks fly from the barrel, heard the report and slumped to the ground.

“There was like, literally, a slowdown of time,” DePue said. “It was weird.”


On the ground, eyes wide open, DePue wasn’t exactly sure what had happened. There wasn’t any pain. He said he felt like the wind had been knocked out of him and he couldn’t move his right arm.

Doctors would later tell DePue the bullet fractured his collarbone, ricocheted outward and chipped one neck vertebra near his spine. His arm, which is still temporarily paralyzed, was rendered immobile due to hydrostatic shock. The bullet is still lodged in his neck.

Dazed, DePue heard two other men running to the scene. They started kicking DePue in the head, demanding he hand over his money.

“The guy who shot me didn’t even realize that I had dropped my wallet,” DePue said. “He was a little shocked and he probably didn’t even intend to shoot me in the first place.”

One of the accomplices located the wallet on the ground and the three ran west toward a bike trail that borders the park. Enraged and fueled by adrenaline, DePue chased after them, screaming and yelling obscenities as they fled with his new cell phone and his wallet containing $13.

“It was a moment of triumph because I wasn’t dead,” DePue said.

But he was losing blood and needed swift medical attention. All he had left was a pair of headphones, some ChapStick and his keys.

“I knew I had to immediately go to Pinch Penny because that’s where everyone was: bouncers, police and people,” DePue said.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the ordeal was the inaction of bystanders he encountered along the way, he said. While DePue was walking near a group of younger college-aged people he screamed for them to phone the police.

“They laughed as if I was kidding or if I was drunk or something,” DePue said.

When he finally arrived at the north end of the beer garden, the bouncers at Pinch Penny didn’t believe him either, DePue said. Then he thought of a different way to get the point across.

“I unzipped my vest and I was wearing two T-shirts underneath that were completely soaked in blood,” DePue said.

A bouncer who was working the bar gave temporary medical assistance to DePue and called the police. Police were on the scene first and DePue was able to maintain consciousness to tell them what happened. An ambulance arrived about 6 p.m. and DePue was taken to Carbondale Memorial Hospital.

In a hospital bed with an IV drip of pain medication, DePue said his anger and frustration subsided; replaced by relief and giddiness.

“And then I was in the hospital joking about how I got shot on Polar Bear,” he said. 

Bill Lukitsch can be contacted at [email protected] or 618-539-5336.