Four bullets from an automatic rifle fired by a virtual stranger tore Jeremy Tammone’s body apart and changed his life forever.
The bullets went through his abdomen, almost severed off his stomach and hit his brain, destroying 10 to 15% of his brain matter, he said as he showed News4 his catastrophic injuries.
The gunman, Navy veteran Jaeyoung Lee, was convicted this month by a jury in Fairfax County, Virginia.
It’s a crime and story of extreme stalking turned violent that’s stayed under the radar until now. For Tammone and his loved ones, it’s been more than five long years waiting for justice and coping with profound injuries.
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"The easiest thing to do is to just not think about it as much, because that will bring you down pretty quick," Tammone said.
It started when Tammone’s doorbell rang the evening of Oct. 21, 2017. He was in the lower level of his townhome playing darts with a friend. A Marine and Army veteran, Tammone was working as a political policy analyst for a Department of Defense contractor.
As he climbed the stairs to answer the door, he was shot and knocked down the stairs.
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"As I walked through the doorway of the finished basement downstairs to head to the stairs to come up," Tammone said. "The next thing, I’m waking up in the hospital."
Investigators quickly identified an active duty Navy man, Lee, as the suspect after Tammone’s friend told police that she and Lee had recently broken up.
During the trial, jurors heard a recorded phone call that police asked her to make to Lee the day after the shooting, to see if he might confess. She pressed him on whether he was the person who pulled the trigger.
"Can you please say you were not involved in this?" she asked
"Jenny, I had absolutely nothing to do with this," he said.
With no confession, Fairfax County detectives began an exhaustive investigation. They initially were able to get Lee behind bars after a search of his apartment revealed hundreds of images of child pornography.
As they scoured electronic devices, they discovered Lee had been stalking the ex-girlfriend. Evidence presented at trial showed he ordered a lock kit so he could get into her apartment. He planted a hidden camera in her home so he could watch her movements. He used special software to gain access to her laptop and social media, tracking her and taking photos whenever she met up with friends.
Investigators say the stalking turned violent when Lee learned his ex was with Tammone. He set up outside a window and opened fire.
"Although he didn’t manage to kill me, he killed the rest of me, what made me me," Tammone said. "My career, everything else fell to the ground and fell apart."
Tammone spent weeks in a coma and was in the hospital for months.
"God talked to me in my coma," Tammone said. "He said, 'Do you want to live or die?' and in that moment, in that question, I had all the things I haven't accomplished in my life flash before my face in the blink of an eye, and I said, 'Live!' And then I woke up from the coma."
Tammone’s head wound left his skull flattened on one side. Sometimes he wears a ball cap and sometimes he doesn’t.
"At a traffic light, you’ll see people looking at you like they're looking at an alien," he said. "I mean, who’s ever seen anybody with a brain injury where your skull is actually missing."
His abdominal wound was so severe that he lost his intestines and can no longer eat. The wound left open for years was finally closed up during several surgeries in March. He spends hours each day receiving infusions with liquid nutrition.
Tammone’s parents had just retired and now work as his caregivers full-time.
"There was a time when we had to prepare 18 syringes a day every day," said his father, Mike Tammone.
The years of recovery were shadowed with anxiety over whether Lee would be found guilty of his crimes. A jury delivered that answer earlier this month and found Lee guilty of all seven charges.
Tammone and his family broke into tears over the verdict.
"The trial alone was an emotional rollercoaster that I don’t wish on anybody," he said. "Hearing the verdict brought it all out. I think after the second charge was announced I was a bawling mess."
Then he looked at Lee to see the shooter’s reaction.
"There was nothing there," he said. "I’m like, this guy's got no soul."
Tammone and his family credited the detectives, prosecutors and victim advocates for delivering the justice he sought.
"They were all top notch from the detectives to the prosecution team, everybody," he said. "They're the best Virginia has to offer."
Lee was given an honorable discharge from the Navy after the investigation was under way, which frustrates Tammone.
Prosecutors will seek life in prison for Lee at his sentencing in October.
Tammone hopes he may become eligible for a transplant that would enable him to eat again, and he hopes to be able to return to work someday.
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