WARNING, GRAPHIC IMAGES: Alana Castaneda is sharing her story with the hope of raising awareness of gun crime and to help other survivors after she was mercilessly attacled at Whole Foods
A woman has shared the terrifying ordeal she went through having been shot in the face by a stranger in a supermarket car park, which has left her fighting for her life in hospital. After finishing her weekly shop at Whole Foods, Alana Castaneda was filling her vehicle with food when terror struck.
The 29-year-old was poised to get inside and drive off, but then she felt a “presence” lurking over her left shoulder. Just seconds later, a man appeared who was dressed in black and pointed a gun to her head and pulled the trigger.
Now Alana is sharing her story with the hope of raising awareness of gun crime and to help other survivors. She previously worked in graphic design prior to the attack, and said: “I talked to a sweet woman behind the counter, got a sandwich and checked out as usual.”
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“Then I opened up my car door, sat down and leaned over to my right side to put my paper bag of groceries in the passenger seat. Suddenly, I felt this presence above my left shoulder and looked up to find a forty calibre gun to my head.
“The gunman told me to give him the keys but I had a push-to-start car so told him to just take it. He didn’t seem to understand and then all of a sudden I felt this bang on the left side of my head, which made me see stars. I managed to regain focus but then he started hitting me with the gun.”
After shooting, the attacker legged it, and Alana ran back to Whole Foods for help. She said: “Being shot felt very hot, like my face was on fire. I heard nothing but a loud ringing in my head.
“Covered in blood, I grabbed onto this random woman’s wrists and asked her to call for help. I kept repeatedly yelling my name and birth date over and over so that someone could identify me in case I didn’t make it.”
While being taken to a trauma hospital, Alana heard that the attacker had been caught and was in custody. She was “relieved”, however her gruelling journey to recovery was far from over.”
The bullet penetrated her zygomatic bone [by the eye socket/cheek] and was put in her neck, whilst Alana’s orbital floor “shattered”. She said: “I underwent surgery that same night and was bed-ridden for two months afterwards. I couldn’t open my jaw and had to do physical therapy to slowly open it back up, while on a liquid diet and then moved onto soft food.”
The incident took place on 2 November 2021 and Alana has been in recovery ever since – with her most recent surgery taking place in August 2023.
While she is happy that her attacker is behind bars, she has been left to pick up the pieces of her life, which will never look the same again. She said: “Recovery was and still is brutal, especially adapting mentally and emotionally to the ‘new’ person I’ve become.
“I have PTSD too. Sometimes I get caught off-guard when people ask me what’s happened to my face. I also have nightmares of the attacker’s face and the gunshot sound in my head, reliving the same situation again.
“I went back once to the supermarket where it happened to visit the woman who saved my life and give her a gift. When she saw me, we hugged and both started crying. She’ll always hold a special place in my heart.”
The gunman, Julio Caesar Rivera, was accused of a string of carjackings between October and November 2021, including the attack on Alana. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison on July 14, 2023.
Alana was in the courtroom at the time and requested the maximum sentencing. She said: “It was a whirlwind of emotions to face him in court. I was full of rage at first.”
“I was so mad to the point where I felt like crying because I had so much resentment towards him, knowing he almost took me out of this world. I refused to shed a single tear until he was taken back into his cell.
“I didn’t want him to know I was showing any sign of weakness. When he apologised to me in court I remained cold and showed no sign of emotion. That definitely took all my strength.”
Despite everything, Alana is grateful for the people in her life who keep her spirits high – especially her dad, John Castaneda, 72, who has been her “rock” through it all. Although her appearance has changed, the survivor is choosing to embrace her scars and wants to encourage others to do the same.
She added: “I have an army of love and support. Before I went into surgery, my dad saw the huge gaping hole in my face and was devastated, like any parent would be. He’s been there to help me through everything and is my rock.
“I’m so relieved my attacker is off the streets and not doing this to anyone else out there. My mind is more at ease now that he is in prison but my injuries have completely altered my life
“They’re on my face, I can’t hide it – so I just embrace it. I feel like a stronger person because I found strength I never knew I had, especially after getting shot in the face and picking myself back up and fighting for my life.”
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