Michael Woods nosed his 1994 Mercury Sable up to one of his favorite fishing holes along the Missouri River near Great Falls and then dialed 911.
“I’m down by Giant Springs on Lower River Road down on the end, close to the dam. I’m in a red car and I’m going to commit suicide. Don’t let my family find my body.”
Sitting in the car, he contemplated which angle would definitely kill him. Shooting up through his chin to his head? Nope.
“I wanted to find a way that there was no way I could survive.”
The 16-year-old pointed his grandfather’s .22-caliber pistol above his right ear and fired.
“When I shot myself, there was a couple of moments where I was still awake and my head was hanging down and I could see my pants,” said Woods, now 22. “There was blood all over my pants. I remember thinking, 'Oh, wow, I did it.'"
He remembers nothing after that.
It was about 8 p.m. on Feb. 9, 2007.
The guy known for his irrepressible spirit, spent the next month in a coma and awoke a quadriparetic. He has sensation but has lost function in all four of his limbs. His hearing and vision were not affected. Neither was his cognitive ability.
The bullet is still lodged in his skull because removing it could cause further damage.
The six months prior to his attempt had become hellish. He and his girlfriend had called it quits. His dysfunctional family was punctuated by divorce, sibling rivalry and an emotionally unstable mother. He was convinced that his father hated him. He moved in with his grandparents.
Cigarettes and bottles of rum were staples of his diet. Pot had also become a favorite crutch.
After his ex-girlfriend’s new love interest “beat the crap” out of Woods for his continued involvement with her, he began toting the .22-caliber pistol in his car for protection.
As the teenager’s life intensified, so did his will to die. He tried to asphyxiate himself by running a hose from the exhaust pipe of his car through a rolled-up car window.
“That was actually more of a cry for help,” he said. “Pride was the biggest thing getting in the way of me getting the help I needed. I was too afraid of showing weakness and letting my family down. I’ve always been the glue that held my family together. I felt like I had to make everybody happy,” he said.
Then would come his life-altering, must-die second attempt.
He left his job as a clerk at a grocery store to pick up a friend who had been drinking. Instead of taking him home and returning to work, Woods stayed at the party, drank and returned to work drunk. He punched his time card as though he’d never been gone.
He was fired immediately.
He didn't tell his family. He continued to park his car in the grocery store parking lot to create the impression that he was still employed. That went on for a week until his family visited the store and learned the truth.
“Big lie. Busted.”
Woods said that was the moment he decided he must die. He realized what a “loser” he had become.
“I hated myself.”
He drove to the river, smoked cigarettes to calm down and pulled a spiral notebook from his backpack. He wrote a note of apology to his family for what he was about to do.
“There was really no help for me and no hope,” he said.
Then he dialed 911.
Today, Woods refers to his near-death experience as a blessing.
He finished high school and went on to graduate from Montana State University Billings in spring 2012 with a degree in rehabilitation and related services. He had a 3.5 grade-point average. He is working on his master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling. He plans to pursue his doctorate.
He works as an advocate at Living Independently for Today and Tomorrow Inc. in Billings and travels to schools where he speaks about suicide prevention. He also helps those with disabilities achieve independence.
He has a healthy relationship with his family and is engaged. He and Ashlee Mead, 22, a student at MSUB, plan to marry in June 2014.
"The only regret I have is the hurt I gave my family."