LaPorte County native Dakota Gordon was finishing up his GED and considering the military in the months leading up to Friday's shooting in the state of Virginia that fatally wounded him.
The 18-year-old was one of two people injured in an attempted armed robbery outside a Dollar General store in Smithfield, Virginia, according to local media, citing police. Smithfield police are investigating.
Shot in the stomach, Gordon was initially expected to survive, but he died days later following post-surgery complications on New Year's Eve.
“They said he was going to be OK,” his mother, Maranda McKinney, said. “We don’t really know why or what went wrong.”
The day after the shooting, Gordon was talkative and improving. A day later, he spiked a fever and, after a CT scan, lost consciousness. Then he stopped breathing — with his mother by his side, she said.
“It was one of the worst moments of my life, but I‘m so glad I had that with him,” McKinney said.
LaPorte County roots
Gordon and his family moved to Virginia a year and a half ago.
Before that he sprouted up from a 4-pound, 8-ounce preemie at his Crumstown childhood home into a 6-foot-tall, 200-pound young man, his mother said.
Gordon attended New Prairie High School, where he played football. He wrestled during his elementary and middle school years. He held records, at least at the time, in his weight class for dead lifting, his mother said.
He loved blasting the car stereo and dancing around in his mother's car. Outgoing and unabashed, Gordon would easily make friends with anyone — even going as far as striking up conversations with strangers at the Social Security office during an exceptionally long wait.
McKinney said her son, who celebrated his 18th birthday Dec. 10, made a special request for his party, insisting she make homemade sloppy Joes and chocolate mousse cake.
“That’s what he wanted,” McKinney said.
Everyone who knew and loved him called him "Kota," she said.
“When I was pregnant with him, I picked out three names if it was a boy. I delivered him at 33 weeks. He was tiny. We were very scared. One of the nurses asked me, 'What is his name?' And I said 'Dakota but I’m going to call him Kota.' That’s when he suddenly opened up his eyes and looked right at me. So he picked his own name.”
A chance to say goodbye
McKinney said her son was thrust into fatherhood at a young age — but loved every moment of it. After he moved to Virginia, Gordon would often have FaceTime video chats with his 3-year-old son, Aydan Cook.
That’s one of the reasons why Gordon’s family has launched a GoFundMe page, "Help get Dakota back home."
Money raised will assist with funeral expenses and to bring his body home to LaPorte. They want to give his family and friends in Northwest Indiana a chance to say goodbye.
“It’s not something you think about when your kids are teenagers, coming up with money for a funeral,” McKinney said. "Every little bit helps."
The family is having two services — one in Virginia, and a second sometime next week at Cutler Funeral Home in LaPorte.
"His son needs to be able to see his dad and say goodbye. My grandmother and his brothers, his sister," she said. "He has so many friends and family here."
To visit the GoFundMe page, click on gofundme.com/help-get-dakota-back-home