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St. John’s footballer recovers after surgery

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The St. John’s University football player who was shot March 11 and paralyzed from the waist down underwent surgery Monday to remove the bullet lodged in his spine and was doing well, his surgeon said Tuesday.

Cory Mitchell, 22, was a linebacker on the Red Storm football team, but he was taking a semester off from his senior year at the time of the shooting during a late-night dispute on the St. John’s campus near Gate 1 on Utopia Parkway.

His girlfriend is pregnant with his child and is expected to give birth any day now, said Dr. Thomas Lee, the neurosurgeon who operated on Mitchell at Phelps Memorial Hospital in Sleepy Hollow.

“The surgery went smoothly,” Lee said. “We retrieved the bullet and relieved the pressure in his spine.”

Lee said Mitchell had some sensation in his lower-body, indicating that the bullet did not fully severe the spinal cord, so the surgery was performed with the hope that he could regain more sensation in the future.

“Recovery from a spinal cord injury takes months,” Lee said, so it is hard to say now what benefits the surgery will bring.

Lee said Mitchell was in good spirits and surrounded by his family and friends. After Mitchell receives some physical therapy at the hospital, Lee hopes to transfer him in about a week back to the Burke Rehabilitation Hospital in White Plains, where he was before the surgery.

Chris Prince, 21, of Elmont, L.I., was arrested shortly after the shooting and arraigned on charges of attempted murder and assault in Queens Criminal Court. His bail was set at $100,000, said Mary de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Prince’s case is set to resume in court April 24.

Prince is also accused of shooting Rashon Fray, 19, who was shot in the leg during the same incident that took place after an argument started in an off-campus bar. Fray, who is not a St. John’s student, was treated and released from a nearby hospital.

Police said the shooting stemmed from a dispute between two groups that began earlier that night at Traditions, a Hillside Avenue bar where students said the St. John’s track and field team was hosting a party. After Mitchell and his friends left the bar, the other group followed them to St. John’s, where police allege Prince pulled a gun from inside his clothes and fired five shots into a crowd, hitting Mitchell in the back and Fray in the leg.

St. John’s hired former Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to head a campus security task force three days after the shooting. St. John’s President the Rev. Donald J. Harrington said the task force would compare St. John’s security to that of other campuses and gather suggestions from students, staff and community residents.

Harrington said the new security measures would take about a month to develop, but university spokesman Jody Fisher spokesman said Kelly was still working on the security report.

“We told him to take as much time as he needs,” Fisher said of the tentative May 1 launch date for the new measures. “He may decide to take more time on it. He is the driver.”

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

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