While on vacation with his wife and two children in South Dakota, optometrist John Ellis, of Connellsville, Pa., was shot during an outdoor Wild West re-enactment.

John Ellis, O.D., pictured here in better times, was shot in the arm and won’t be able to work for weeks, if not months.
“The actors were shooting their pistols with what we thought were blanks,” he says, “and then something hit me and kind of turned me about a quarter of the way around.” Dr. Ellis felt pain in his left elbow, and when he reached for it with his right hand, he saw blood. Two other bystanders were also shot.

All three individuals are expected to recover, but Dr. Ellis––who had surgery to remove bone and lead fragments from his wound––cannot return to work until he regains control of his hand. “I can’t make a fist with my left hand. I can’t touch my thumb to my fingertips, and without that dexterity, I can’t do my job,” he says.

In Dr. Ellis’s small town, word traveled fast. Being a solo practitioner, this incident could have put him in a tough spot. Fortunately, some of his colleague-friends have pitched in, putting aside the rivalry of practice and taking on his patients to keep his practice running as smoothly as possible while he is out of commission. “I appreciate the concerns of my patients, colleagues and staff,” Dr. Ellis says. “The office has been flooded with calls and cards asking how I am.”

Back in South Dakota, authorities are still investigating why someone was using live ammunition. The show is a regular summer attraction and fundraiser put on by the Dakota Wild Bunch Reinactors. Following the incident, the group stated on its Facebook page that only blanks were used at the show; however, investigators found live .45-caliber rounds and spent shells at the location and have tied this evidence to “bad guy” re-enactor Paul Doering, 49, of Somerset, S.D.

One of the “bad guys” from the Dakota Wild Bunch Reinactors is believed to have fired live ammunition at the show.

Dr. Ellis says that the medical staff at the hospital where he was treated told him that the injury was a “picture-perfect, classic gunshot wound.”

Pressing charges may be in his future. “I have a lot of medical expenses and physical therapy is going to be ongoing for a while, if I do recover my movement,” he says. “And this could be six to eight weeks or more of not working, so that’s something we’re going to have to figure out once the criminal process starts.”

It hasn’t been decided yet whether the case will be taken on by the South Dakota State Attorney General’s office or by the federal authorities, but Mr. Doering could face misdemeanor charges for simple assault and reckless discharge of a firearm and/or federal weapons charges. At present, Dr. Ellis has yet to be contacted by the Dakota Wild Bunch Reinactors.