Cellphones have a way of interrupting things — conversations, movies, silence.
John Mitchell’s cellphone interrupted a bullet.
It was in his sweatshirt pocket as Mitchell, coffee in hand, exited a Logan Square gas station and entered the sights of a carjacker’s handgun.
It was the morning of Feb. 24 and a few degrees above freezing.
There were two shots. One grazed his hand. The other, headed for his torso, slammed into his iPhone.
“The phone was disintegrated, you know what I mean? It started on fire. I thought I was hit. I looked down and just started yelling ‘Call the police!'” he recalled.
In a heartbeat, Mitchell, 57, a city plumbing inspector from Edison Park, gained membership in a very small club of people in Chicago saved from serious injury — or worse — by a something that happened to be on their body.
For Chicago Police Officer Frederico Andaverde, it was a wallet.
The leather billfold stopped a bullet during a West Side shootout in September 2003.
The slug tore through cash, credit cards, pictures of his children and his ID before stopping just short of his health insurance card.
Andaverde, now 51 and still a cop, received a nasty bruise and several “Buns of Steel” workout videos from colleagues.
His wallet was never returned; it’s being held as evidence in case the man charged in the shooting, who fled the country, is arrested again.
“But the money, that they returned to me,” said Andaverde, who received one of the city’s highest honors for bravery after the shooting. “I argued that I needed it to pay bills.”
He laminated a $20 bill and keeps it in his wallet — a sobering reminder.
It’s unclear how many people could sit at a table with Mitchell and Andaverde to tell a similar tale. Nobody tracks such cases.
Reaching out to Chicago hospitals, police and fire personnel and others who work with victims of gun violence yields a common response: “Let me ask around and see if anyone remembers anything like this.”
Last summer, Grace Chang, a trauma surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital on the West Side, treated a man who had keys, a brass knuckle and several coins in his pocket that stopped a bullet. The coins shattered, and pieces of the metal became embedded under his skin. But the wounds were superficial.
“I told him, ‘You’re very lucky, you should go buy a lottery ticket,'” Chang recalled.
“The longer you practice, the more you realize you see more things that really can’t be explained … life is kind of weird,” Chang said.
In 2017, a man who thought he’d been shot after hearing gunfire on a West Side street ended up in Mount Sinai’s emergency room, but doctors were puzzled when they removed his clothes and couldn’t find a bullet wound, just a couple of scratches, recalled Jhoanna Gulmatico, program coordinator for trauma service at the hospital.
The mystery was solved when they checked his pants and found a shattered iPhone with bullet fragments in it.
“We thought it was basically his saving grace,” Gulmatico said.
The chances of an iPhone stopping a bullet depend on several factors, including distance, trajectory and the type of gun and bullet, said Tom Gamboe, a forensic scientist with the Illinois State Police. “And if there was a case on the iPhone, that would help, too,” he said.
“I wouldn’t want to put an iPhone in the breast pocket of my shirt and say, ‘Go ahead and shoot me, and let’s see if it does anything,'” he said.
A Chicago cop responding to the mass shooting at Mercy Hospital in 2018 was saved from serious injury when his holstered handgun stopped a bullet.
“This sort of thing happened a few times over the course of my career,” said former Chicago Police Supt. Phil Cline, who retired in 2007 after four decades with the department and now heads the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation.
Mitchell, who’s daughter came in from Kentucky to be with her dad after his brush with gun violence, is just glad to be alive.
“I’m Catholic, and I tell you what, I pray to God. And you better believe I’ve been praying more,” he said.