Five years after a violent act meant to kill Kelly Kiper Longoria, she readies herself to teach at Lakeshore Elementary School in Monroe and finishes her summer duties as a Vacation Bible School instructor. Longoria is a survivor.
On July 16, 2016 at 7 a.m., Longoria stopped at U-Pak-It / Citgo convenience store while on her way to her family’s hardware store, Kiper’s. But, Longoria did not make it to Kiper’s because Kevin Mathis of Winnsboro kidnapped her at gunpoint.
Mathis drove her SUV with Longoria in the passenger seat to a Gethsemane Cemetery where he robbed her, shot her in the head and left her for dead.
While Franklin Parish Sheriff deputies and Louisiana State Police collected evidence, then officer Will Pierce of the Winnsboro Police Department discovered Mathis on the street and arrested him. Pierce is now Winnsboro Chief of Police.
A West Carroll Parish jury convicted Mathis of aggravated kidnapping, attempted first degree murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Mathis was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor without benefit of parole on the aggravated kidnapping, 50 years at hard labor without benefit of parole on first degree murder and 10 years at hard labor without the benefit of parole for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Longoria was taken to University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson. She would stay at the hospital for six weeks, much of the time spent in the neurology science intensive care unit.
A survivor’s hospital time
When Longoria arrived at the hospital, doctors gave little hope she would make it through the first night, but she did.
The second day, doctors said she would not wake up. After a short time period, their prognosis was she would be a “vegetable,” said Lisa Kiper, her mother.
As days progressed, doctors said Longoria “may not be a vegetable, but she was not going to be able to walk or talk.”
“Every day or every other day there was something that helped us to see she was hanging in there,” Kiper said.
In the coming days, Longoria soon started responding to doctors by signaling a thumbs up.
“That little emoji will always be so different for us,” Kiper said. “It means so much more to us because she did that.”
Hospital protocol required doctors not to let patients stay on a ventilator for more than 10 days and as the 10th day came, Longoria woke up and the ventilator was taken out.
Doctors were amazed at her progress, but still gave her family grave news: Longoria was paralyzed on her left side and could not talk.
Longoria was not listening to doctors as she began to whisper, and re-learned how to feed herself and eventually move her left side.
“It was one wow moment after another,” Kiper said. “I recognize daily that God didn’t do just one miracle with Kelly, but He did miracle after miracle after miracle. He makes me so much more thankful in my daily life.”
Six weeks after arriving at the hospital nearly dead, Longoria left under her own power.
“If you didn’t know Kelly, you wouldn’t know anything happened to her,” Kiper said. “She walked out of the parking lot, and I skipped around the parking lot because I kept saying not only are we leaving, but we are leaving without Kelly on a wheelchair or even crutches.”
Longoria would have to do speech, physical and occupation therapy for 18 months after leaving the hospital.
A survivor’s testimony
Before leaving the hospital, Kiper and Longoria’s husband, Shane, noticed a change in many people in the hospital.
“God was working in that whole hospital,” Kiper said. “All over the hospital they would say we haven’t seen a surge in other people getting well as much as we see now, and we think it is all the prayers going on.”
People coming to see and pray for Longoria would pray for other families. When Longoria was moved to a regular room, Kiper, Shane and Longoria would still go to the ICU and visit with employees and family members to talk and pray.
“Neurology science intensive care unit don’t see a lot of success stories, every time we took Kelly over there she showed her progress they would just cry,” Kiper said. “These people knew what we went through the first 10 days. They got to see the good side and how it worked.”
Longoria remembered one doctor in particular whose wife was not a Christian and refused to talk about the doctor’s Christianity until she showed interest in Longoria’s progress.
“She started asking about God because of my miracles,” Longoria said. “She witnessed these things and started opening up the dialogue.”
According to Kiper, during the six-week hospital stay the couple heard from someone in all 50 states and 18 different countries.
Longoria and her husband are heavily involved in First Baptist Church of Monroe where he is the worship leader. Longoria also works at church camps teaching high school girls and giving a testimony of survival and forgiveness.
“Still to this day, even after five years, this is still helping people,” Longoria said.
In 2018, Longoria led tenth grade girls in Bible study at church camp where she was able to use the ordeal as a testimony. This year, Longoria was assigned to the twelfth grade girls and again used her testimony as part of the lessons.
“It helps the girls open up and be more real,” Longoria said.
A survivor’s forgiveness
An important aspect of Longoria’s recovery both physically and mentally was her ability to forgive Mathis. She realized in order to move forward in her life she must let go and forgive the action and situation.
“A big part was separating the person from the action,” Longoria said. “I realized four or five years ago he is not necessarily a bad person he just chose to do a bad thing.”
Kiper remembered right after the incident happened people on social media attempting make it a racial issue.
“I told them this was not going to divide our community,” Kiper said. “It is not a racial issue but a heart issue. He was not an evil man but did an evil thing.”
A survivor’s future
The incident has created a new perspective for Longoria. She treats every day like a gift and seeks out the good in those around her. She cherishes personal accomplishments and holds loved ones close.
“I know now not to take any day for granted,” Longoria said. “My perspective is different. Every day is different and I appreciate that.”
Longoria recently finished her teaching certification and celebrated her sixth anniversary with Shane. She looks forward to a bright future where she has set goals of becoming a better Christian, wife and possibly a mother.