SANTA CLARA, Calif. - A very smart, brave, and innocent 15-year-old is recovering after a horrific experience last Friday.
Gianna Vitarelli and her girlfriend were leaving Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara when suddenly something happened.
"Me and her heard a really loud 'thwack' noise and I immediately said 'Ow!'" Gianna recalled.
It turns out she was hit by a drive-by pellet gun projectile, a situation the Santa Clara police are now investigating.
"We turned around to see what that was, and we just see a car driving off, rolling up its window," the teen said.
After blood started flowing from the wound, paramedics thought it was a relatively minor piercing of her skin. But, as her condition worsened, and her breathing was labored, doctors found out it was much worse.
"My wife took her to urgent care and they had done an X-ray and that's where they found the pellet," said her father, Mike Vitarelli.
The pellet had done its damage.
"It had collapsed my lung, fractured a rib, it caused a lot of internal bleeding and then it almost hit my heart," said Gianna.
That serious injury caused Gianna to have emergency surgery and spend three days in the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit.
The pellet is and will remain in her lung.
"It's going to take a long time to recover. She's probably gonna have some mental issues or anxiety going out in public," her father said.
The experience has changed her.
"I was walking in a very safe neighborhood so, I feel like now, I'm just going to be definitely way more cautious just walking anywhere," Gianna said.
A paramedic told her family that she was the fourth pellet shooting victim of that day.
"I know there have been BB gun shootings along Stevens Creek by the mall. You know, I can't make any sense of it. You know, the more I think of it, the more upset I get," Mike Vitarelli said.
Despite what happened, Gianna wants to see the good in people.
"I'm trying to just stay positive because of all the people that have supported me," she said.