'I forgive you’: Woman paralyzed by drunk man dancing with gun faces shooter in court

Published: Oct. 6, 2020 at 8:00 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A woman left paralyzed after a man drunkenly danced at a party while holding a gun surprised the judge and brought her shooter to tears Tuesday as she delivered a powerful message of forgiveness.

In June of 2017, Deborah Walunga was 20. She had traveled from Gambell, Alaska to Anchorage for a wedding and was staying at her friend’s apartment. Instead of attending the wedding, Walunga would instead be shot by a bullet that seemed to come out of nowhere, entering her lower back and puncturing her heart, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

The bullet came from the apartment directly below her friend’s, where Joseph Lock, who was 22 at the time, lived and was hosting a party.

According to charging documents, Lock initially told investigators that he only heard the shot and did not know who fired it — then later admitted it was him.

He said several people he does not know showed up to the party and one of them brought a pistol and showed it to him. He said he checked to make sure it wasn’t loaded, then fired it at a stuffed giraffe and returned it to the man who brought it.

Lock later told Anchorage police, while handling the gun again, he assumed it was still unloaded and was “dancing with the gun in his hand and accidentally fired it into the ceiling.” He said he then dropped the gun, and the man who brought it picked it up and ran out. Lock admitted to consuming a large amount of alcohol and some marijuana before handling the firearm.

More than three years after the shooting, Lock, now 25, accepted a plea deal, pleading guilty to a felony assault charge with an aggravator.

At Lock’s sentencing hearing Tuesday, Walunga appeared in court in a wheelchair to address him in person.

“I hope one day that I can meet you as a friend and that we can laugh about it together," she said. “And just so you know, I forgive you, and I hope that life becomes better for you.”

Lock nodded his head during her victim impact statement and wiped away tears.

When it was his turn to speak, he apologized, telling Walunga, “I’m sorry for what I did.”

Anchorage Superior Court Judge Catherine Easter noted the rarity of Walunga’s statements in court.

“You just don’t see victims coming into court and saying what she’s said,” Easter said to Lock, later adding, “My hope is, for everyone, that you take Ms. Walunga’s words of forgiveness and you do something with your life, you don’t let this define you, you do something productive with your life.”

Prosecutor Patrick McKay described Walunga as one of the most forgiving people he’s ever met.

“Her biggest concern about today was that she wasn’t going to have the opportunity to forgive him in person,” he said.

Walunga said because of her Christian faith, she forgave Lock immediately after the shooting.

“It’s important to tell people you forgive them in person because it not only helps you, but it helps the other person to heal,” she said.

Walunga, who lives in an assisted living home in Anchorage now, said she believes she will walk again and hopes to eventually return home to Gambell.

Lock is sentenced to six years with four suspended, leaving two to serve. He will get credit for time already served. He’s also sentenced to five years of probation.

As he is a felon now, he is legally prohibited from possessing firearms.

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