She Lives With a Bullet in Her Brain After Her Child's Father Shot Her. Now She Is Reclaiming Her Story
Melody had no idea that when she started dating John Nealy III that her life would change forever.
As Melody Megginson approached her Alabama apartment on the evening of May 18, 2019, she couldn’t have fathomed that her life was about to change forever. It was just after 9 p.m., and her then boyfriend, John Nealy III, 38, had been calling her incessantly, but when she arrived at the apartment they had recently begun sharing, he wasn’t there.
But in the middle of the night, he woke Melody up, smelling of alcohol. He punched her, put a gun to her side and commanded her to get in his truck. She had just given birth to their son, Jayson, six weeks before, and the newborn and her toddler were in the home with her.
Melody sat in the passenger seat of Nealy’s truck as he drove down the street. It’s the last thing she remembers from that night.
“And it just went blank,” Melody, 26, told Inside Edition Digital.
Birmingham Police were dispatched that night around 10:16 p.m. to an east Birmingham home when someone contacted them about an unresponsive female. When they arrived they found John Nealy Jr., John Nealy III’s father, and a neighbor outside, flagging down police with flashlights. The pair directed police to where the woman, whom they said they didn’t know, was lying, according to a police report.
It was Melody. She was covered in blood in the driveway of Nealy III’s father’s house, the police report said. She had been shot in the head. At the time, police had no idea who she was, or that she had children who were nowhere to be found. All they knew was the woman had little chance of surviving her gunshot wound. She was transported to UAB Hospital clinging to life.
She would beat all odds, however.
The Crime that Changed Melody Megginson’s Life Forever
After a few days in the hospital, authorities were able to identify Melody from a piece of paper with her name on it that was found in the glove compartment of the truck she had been left in. It wasn’t long before authorities suspected the father of her child may be responsible for the shooting.
Nealy III was nowhere to be found, though, and it wasn’t until police were able to get into contact with Melody’s mother, Katrina Aalmo, that they realized her children were also missing.
“I didn't know that she was shot for like four days,” Aalmo told Inside Edition Digital. “I got the number to the police department. They gave me, Detective Howard, is his name. I spoke with him and he told me that he didn't know for sure whether my daughter was going to make it or not. And I said, ‘Well, where's her kids?’ And he goes, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘She has two kids.’ And I said, ‘She just had a baby. Where are my grandkids?’”
Aalmo also said she told police that Nealy lll was the one who had shot her daughter. She informed police that he had gotten violent with Melody in the weeks leading up to the shooting and Melody was trying to leave the situation.
Police got in touch with Nealy lll and let him know that he needed to turn in the kids, Aalmo said. She said a few days later someone then dropped the kids off at the fire department, but because there were no cameras, it wasn’t clear how they got there.
The children were put in state custody while Melody fought for her life. Doctors discovered she had a bullet lodged in her brain that was too dangerous to remove.
Aalmo flew to Birmingham from her home in Oregon, where Melody is originally from, to be with her daughter in the hospital.
“I try not to talk about it much because it upsets me really bad,” Aalmo said. “She was just laying there with all these wires, all these tubes, she had a trach. She couldn't breathe on her own. It was really bad.”
In the meantime, police began to piece together what may have happened. After finding Melody in John Nealy Jr.'s driveway, they found a trail of blood and it became clear to them that Melody had not been shot at the residence where she was found but driven there afterward, according to the police report.
A witness also told police they saw an altercation and heard a gunshot at 74th Street and Second Avenue in the city, and that she had seen blood and flipflop at the location. Police said they confirmed that account.
Melody would remain in a coma for the next two months.
How the Abuse Began
Melody had known Nealy III for about a month and a half when she found out she was pregnant. She’d met him walking down the street and he said he was a businessman. Melody had moved to Alabama a short time before and didn’t know many people in the area. A few days after she had their son, the couple moved in together.
“Looking back, I realized we didn't really know each other,” Melody said. “We just kind of went too fast in the relationship.”
Melody said Nealy III became controlling once the pair moved in together.
“He started acting differently, wanting to know where I'm at, who I'm with, what I wear and stuff like that. I realized the relationship wasn't going to work out,” Melody said. “It wasn't what I thought it was, and I was trying to make moves to move on to leave the situation. I think he figured that out.”
A week prior to the shooting, Melody said Nealy III beat her. He had never been violent with her before. Melody confided in her mom about what happened.
“She just wanted to leave. He busted her lip and all that prior to the shooting. And I said, ‘Melody, call the cops on him.’ She just goes, ‘Well, I'm scared,’” Aalmo said. “She doesn't know anybody out there, and believe me, I wish I would've called the cops and I regret that, but she asked me to try to stay out of it.”
Melody wasn’t aware that Nealy III was out on bond for a capital murder charge in connection with the Aug. 9, 2016 shooting death of a man in east Birmingham. He had been released from jail with electronic monitoring, which Melody said she knew, but she said he lied to her about the crime he committed.
Days before the shooting, on May 15, 2019, Nealy III’s electronic monitoring was removed because he had not had any violations and his lawyer asked that he be taken off to take care of his father following a surgery, according to authorities.
After police pieced together the details of the shooting, Nealy III was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
Waking Up From a Coma
No one expected Melody to survive. She was shot at close range with a Glock .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol. The bullet went directly into her brain and there was no exit wound, and doctors had no way of removing it without Melody dying.
Melody suffered what doctors referred to as a traumatic brain injury (TBI). The prognosis for those shot in the head isn’t usually positive. Ninety percent of gunshot wounds to the head are fatal, with many victims dying before they even reach the hospital, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
“Chances of survival after a penetrating injury to the brain, such as a gunshot wound, is very low,” Dr. Komal Ashraf, a neurologist, told Inside Edition Digital. “And of those patients [who live], we know that about 50% will have long-term neurologic consequences.”
Melody’s mom said that although Melody’s chances of survival did not initially look good, she held out hope.
Then, miraculously, two months after the shooting Melody opened her eyes.
“I asked her if she could see me and I said, ‘If you can, try to move your hand or your thumb,’” Aalmo said. “She moved her thumb, so I knew that she could hear me and see me. I cried. I just sat there and cried and held her, but she couldn't speak. And she doesn't know what's really going on.”
Aalmo said she told Melody that she had been shot, but that she would be OK. Melody was unable to speak for two months, so they used hand signals to communicate.
Melody said when she first woke up she didn’t want to believe what had happened to her or that her ex-boyfriend had truly attempted to kill her.
“I was kind of in a daze. I had tubes out my neck. My arms were tied down to the bed,” Melody said. “For a couple months, I didn't want to believe that a person I loved did that to me. I just had his child.”
Melody underwent 13 surgeries for her injuries. And she still has more to go.
“My face on the right side is paralyzed,” Melody said. “I'm deaf in [my right] ear, and I have a plate in my head on the right side. I have a gold weight in my eyelids, so I can close my eye all the way when I sleep. I have a VP shunt that drains my brain fluid, that keeps me alive. I have to keep that for the rest of my life. I had to relearn how to talk, to speak.”
And while recovering and trying to reclaim her life, Melody also had to fight for custody of her two children. She had to take parenting and domestic violence classes, often showing up to class with a walker in between surgeries. She also had to undergo regular drug screenings. She was treated like she’d done something wrong even though she was the victim, she said.
In 2021, two years after the shooting, Melody regained custody of her two children. But still, she missed out on major moments in their lives, which has been tough to reconcile, she said.
“My oldest boy was afraid of me when I first was shot. Then my youngest boy didn't know who I was and it broke my heart,” Melody said. “I felt a lot was stolen from me. I didn't get to see his first foods, first crawl, first rollover, first walk, first birthday, because he was just six weeks old when I was shot, and that's stuff I can't get back.”
She still struggles to adjust to life with a traumatic brain injury as well. She gets frustrated more easily, but it’s something she said she is working on. She also suffers night terrors and has had seizures.
“I'm learning coping mechanisms and trying to relearn how to do a lot,” Melody said.
Due to the gunshot wound, the teeth on the right side of her mouth are rotting. It’s painful and Melody is hoping to be able to get the money to have it fixed. It’s something insurance won’t cover and she’s hoping to not have to get dentures at 26 years old. It’s also taking her time to build up her confidence again.
She is raising money through a GoFundMe to help with her existing medical bills and hopes to move back to Oregon to be near her mom again. Now that she has her kids back, Melody hopes to leave Alabama.
Becoming an Advocate
In August 2019, Nealy III pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of first-degree assault for shooting Melody. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison. For the capital murder charge, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years.
The sentence is an insult, Melody said. And had Nealy III not been out on bail on a capital charge murder, she wouldn’t have been shot, she said.
“It made me feel like they don't care about poor young, Black women, to be honest with you,” she said. “I felt like if I was somebody else [who Nealy III shot], that it would've got more attention, [he] would've got more time.”
Through it all, Melody has been a fighter. She is hoping she can help other women by telling her story. She wants people to know that abuse can be more than solely physical and wants to make people aware of the signs.
“He wasn't beating me up every day, There's mental, emotional and physical abuse. And just because it's not physical does not mean it's not abuse and people need to pay attention to that, because I made the mistake of not [doing so],” Melody said.
Melody knows it’s a miracle she survived, and so she wants to make sure she feels her “purpose.” She also hopes to begin working again one day, something she hasn’t been able to do because of her injuries.
She’s thankful to God that she is still here, and thankful to her children for keeping her going.
“Doctors tell me that I should not have survived. Period. I got a 45 [bullet] in my brain and I am walking around living, but I got all my functions,” she said. “I could be worse. I'm definitely blessed, a miracle.”
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