Thanks to an Unsung Heroine

Can we stand another story about people doing the right thing? Another tale that destroys the myth of the passive bystander?

I think we can't get enough of them. We want to hear about heroic acts performed when the world was collapsing in front of our eyes, shaking our faith in everything, including ourselves.

We want to know that folks like Donna Simon are out there, people who reflexively risk their safety because a stranger needs help.

Because she did just that, Simon, a 24-year-old professional singer, dancer and choreographer, now lies on her couch, stark white bandages wrapped around the bullet wounds in her long brown legs, wondering if she will ever again perform with the same agility.

"I have so much invested in my legs," said Simon, 24, a petite, wide-eyed beauty who has recorded with rappers Tone Loc and Def Jef. "Part of my selling point is I dance and sing. If I have a limp, everything will change."

What won't change is the fact that she saved a stranger's life. She doesn't even know his name. But she would do it again.

Like so many others in this city, her world changed a week ago Thursday, the day it seemed possible that, yes, even Beverly Hills might burn.

Simon was taking a lunch break from her first day temping in a law firm, walking on the north side of Wilshire Boulevard at San Vicente Boulevard behind a 20ish white man. They were in front of the Jewish Community Building, a huge gray structure a block east of Beverly Hills.

Simon noticed a caravan of cars slow in traffic and stop. Raised in South Los Angeles, she was taught at an early age to be aware of her surroundings, so she noted some of the vehicles: a red Hyundai, an older black BMW, a blue-gray Monte Carlo.

A black woman in red shorts and a T-shirt, with her hair in a ponytail, jumped out of the passenger side of the Hyundai, and ran toward the man walking ahead of Simon. Was she a college student? Simon wondered. In her hands was a crowbar; she raised and smashed it across the man's upper back at full strength.

Dazed, he turned around, and began heading toward the Hyundai for help. Simon, who is black, yelled: "Turn around! Run this way!" He turned and fled in the other direction, away from his assailants.

The girl with the crowbar looked at Simon. The Hyundai driver screamed, "Grab her handbag!" Simon noticed some young men leaning out the side of the Monte Carlo. She figures they had the gun.

Simon turned to run. She had just jumped onto some stairs leading to a parking structure when she felt something sear her right calf. The bullet ripped out a chunk of flesh, leaving a wound that looked like a big bite from a ripe apple.

"Oh my God," she thought. "I'll never be able to dance again."

Because she was running up stairs, she figures the bullet hit much lower than the gunman intended: "They were trying to kill me, no question. I think they were upset because I wasn't on their side."

She never even felt the second slug that hit her left leg.

She ran into a parking lot and, moments later, bleeding from both wounds, she was scooped up by Eric Benisty, head of security for the Jewish Community Building. A strapping 30-year-old who served with the Israeli army in Lebanon, he carried her inside and called paramedics.

There were other victims of that terrible little caravan: a woman who was robbed of her purse on the sidewalk; a teen-age boy who was pulled off his bicycle and beaten; a motorcyclist who was rammed.

On Wednesday, Simon was propped up on the couch of her Sherman Oaks apartment, wincing occasionally from the pain. She'll be off her feet for another week, won't be able to work out for two months and probably won't "have my life back," as she says, for at least four or five months.

She mulled over a major irony of this story--a dancer grows up in the inner city, moves out of her neighborhood for safety and ends up shot in the legs in one of the poshest parts of town. Her precious legs had saved her before. Twice as a teen-ager, men had tried to pull her into cars. Both times, her strong kicks had scared them off.

She muses over the minor ironies, too: She'd been offered a job downtown that day, but wanted to work somewhere safe. And because her mother's house, near Slauson and Normandie avenues, had no electric power, she had provided a school wake-up call to her younger sister that day. On the phone, her sister had urged her to be extra careful when she was out. "Don't be silly," said Simon. "I'm working in Beverly Hills today."

Now she passes her time reading and creating dance routines in her head, feeling a little depressed when she is alone, trying to be upbeat.

She sent her mother out for thank-you notes she wants to send to Benisty, who carried her to safety, and the doctors at Midway Hospital, who stitched her wounds.

Donna, I'd like you to consider this a thank-you note. From those of us who need to believe that a stranger's voice could mean the difference between life and death.

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