Armoured car robbery survivor making 'miraculous' recovery

The only survivor of a deadly armoured car heist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton last year is telling his story exclusively to CBC News of the night he and three colleagues were ambushed and of his miraculous recovery from a gunshot to his head.

Matthew Schuman relearns how to walk and read after being shot in the head

Armoured guard Matthew Schuman was shot in the head during a deadly heist at the University of Alberta. He tells CBC News about waking up from the coma. 1:25

The only survivor of a deadly armoured car heist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton last year is for the first time telling his story of the night he and three colleagues were ambushed and of his miraculous recovery from a gunshot to his head. 

"Where I started and where I am at right now, I am doing amazing for what happened," Matthew Schuman, 26, told CBC News in an exclusive interview.

Schuman, a firefighter in the military, had picked up a second job working as an armoured guard for the security firm G4S when, on his third shift on June 15th, "everything went to hell."

Last June he and four other guards were making a delivery to an ATM machine at HUB Mall on the campus of the University of Alberta, when gunfire broke out in the secured room. Schuman and three of his co-workers were shot.

"What I had thought was that they were unconscious with me like I was," he recalled. "I didn't know I was shot in the head. I didn't know anything. I could smell the blood."

He screamed for help from behind the locked door leading passersby and eventually police to the gruesome scene.

"The only thing I could think of, other than the pain and the screaming, was to get attention for us. They didn't know where we were."

'I thought I was being shot again'

When police arrived they used a battering ram to break down the door.

"The last thing I can remember hearing — which I found out later — it was the police ramming the door in. I thought I was being shot again so that's why I was screaming even harder.

"Then all of a sudden it was just really peaceful."

A picture taken by a student shows the north end of HUB Mall where the shootings took place. (Facebook)

He was in surgery for four hours to remove a bullet from his brain.

When he came out of a coma four days later, he learned that his three co-workers, Brian Ilesic, Michelle Shegelski and Eddie Rejano had all been killed.

That began the long, difficult struggle to accept what happened. He's asked himself "Why me?" over and over. "How did I live and no one else did?"

Now, he said, "it's just trying to have a good life for Brian, Michelle and Eddie — for their memory."

'He's my miracle child'

Schuman had problems speaking and doctors told his mother he may never walk again or read and write, but Jennifer Schuman never had a doubt.

"I have video of him probably from about two weeks after the accident walking," she said. "The more he walked, the more he wanted to get up and go.

"He is my miracle child," she said. "That is what everyone tells me."

Schuman recalls not knowing what a spoon or fork was for. "I had to start from scratch."

He's even learning to text.

"I'm doing not complex sentences, but just, 'Hi. How are you? How was your day?' That sort of stuff." 

But as is typical with brain injuries, his recovery hasn't gone smoothly and Schuman's struggles continue.

Over the last eight months he's had to live through seizures, more surgeries and learn to accept being cared for.

"The fact that he can't drive his car right now is killing him," his mother said. "The fact that he relies on other people to get things done is hard, having care workers in the house — his lack of privacy — is really hard."

Schuman said throughout his recovery his motivation was always his young son, Landon.

He tries not to take anything for granted and says he hopes that one day he will be able to return to work as a firefighter.

"I don't want to ever forget what happened, but I just want to move on."

Travis Baumgartner, the fifth guard on the shift, is scheduled to go to trial in September on charges of first-degree murder and attempted murder. 

With files from CBC's Adrienne Lamb