This 22-year-old never imagined she would be fighting for her life on July 16, 2016. It’s the day she was abducted on her way to work, shot in the head and left to die in a Winnsboro cemetary.
The incident left the small town of less than 5,000 people shaken to its core.
Kelly was born here, worked in her family’s hardware store and volunteered at a local church.
“Our community- we were shocked,” community member Jimmy Cloessner said. “Shocked that something like this would happen. This is Mayberry, we don’t have problems like this.”
Kelly was airlifted to the hospital in critical condition. Family members said –this is when the Lord stepped in.
“The doctors pretty much made it clear they didn’t have any hope, but we knew that God could work miracles and it just wasn’t one miracle,” Lisa Kiper, Kelly’s mother said. “It was miracle, after miracle, after miracle.”
Day after day, Kelly proved doctors wrong.
Eight days after the incident she was released from the ICU and making the thumbs up sign, but still paralyzed on her left side.
This marked the beginning of Kelly’s long road to recovery—a battle she wasn’t fighting alone.
Her mother and her husband, Shane Longoria, who’s also a local youth pastor, were by her side. All of Franklin Parish rallied behind her in prayer.
“It brought our whole community together, Cloessner added. “Everybody– black, white it didn’t matter and that’s something that we haven’t seen necessarily in the past.”
Lisa and Shane shared Kelly’s progress on social media and her story soon captured the hearts of people all around the world.
“We got a call from Tim Tebow,” Shane said.
“He (shane) was so cool about it,” Lisa said as they all laughed in unison.
“I was personally hoping he’d come to the hospital, but that’s just me,” Kiper added.
More prayers and support followed.
A GoFundMe account raised thousands of dollars. Friends sold t-shirts and Kelly green wristbands. A softball tournament was held in her honor.
Kelly finally regained movement on the left side of her body. Then, she began to walk again and exactly six weeks after the shooting she returned home.
“She goes above and beyond and says no, you put limitations on me I’ll show you what I can actually do,” Shane said.
“And I don’t like taking no for answer,” Kelly added.
Just months ago there was a sign in Winnsboro that stated “Pray For Kelly”. Now it states “Thank The Lord”– a message that is felt all around the community.
“Life is about changing and dealing with that change the best you can and that’s what we’re doing right now,” Lisa said.
Kelly said her experience is proof of the power of prayer.
“When I gave my life to the Lord I told him my life is yours, do as you will and if it takes something like that to bring other people to him then so be it,” she added.
She is back to helping Shane with his youth sermons, inspiring the same people who supported them when they needed it the most.
“It strengthened not only the adults, but the kids, they saw with their own eyes how the power of prayer really works,” community member Tanya Cobb said.
“I’m 47 years old and it’s strengthened my faith—something I’ve known my entire life,” Cloessner added.
Even though Kelly has made remarkable progress, she still has a long road ahead—emotionally and physically.
“It’s a little overwhelming and makes me hesitant to do things in public because I know people are looking at me,” Kelly said.
She goes to therapy four days a week, as she works to regain all of her physical strength and cognitive skills.
Four months ago, this brave, strong and optimistic woman was left for dead in a graveyard.
Relying on friends, family and faith, Kelly says she will follow the plan God has mapped out for her.
“In the future I don’t know what exactly what is in store, but I’m excited about it to see exactly what the Lord has for her,” Shane added.
It’s a lot for this family to be thankful for.