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Devon Blood's Season of Blood

Oakland tattooer Devon Blood sustained a gunshot wound to the skull. It wasn't clear if he'd ever emerge from his coma, let alone tattoo again.



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"He's a fantastic artist," said Petaluma tattooer Clayton James. "Tattooing is a very hard thing to do, and the profession is a lot more like a family than most other professions. It's not just a job, it's a lifestyle."

When he wasn't tattooing or skateboarding, Devon dabbled in other forms of art. He painted watercolors, designed skateboard decks, and made his own tattooing needles and built his own supplies. He used acrylics and oil paints to decorate pieces of cardboard or scavenged wood. For a while he lived across the street from a lumber yard, and he was constantly turning scraps into art. His paintings were grisly, said Alex Turan, a fellow skateboarder who lived with Devon in 2004. Inspired by old Santa Cruz skate decks and slasher film imagery, they featured lots of birds of prey or severed geisha heads, like the one tattooed on Devon's neck. "You can see some of his girls from the past," Turan said. "They're still cutting their throats and stuff, but they're pretty. "He's not drawing girls anymore. Now it's skulls. Now it's about anguish."

Howse concurs. "His art used to have elegance, now it's bolder and more brutal," he said. "It's just bang, bang, bang."

The night of July 11, 2006, Blood was staying with his girlfriend at a warehouse on 20th Avenue in East Oakland. Wartvee lived there with three other people, all punk musicians. The place had three regular bedrooms, and one bed in what was supposed to be the living room. It was a large, white, blocky building, wedged between a taqueria and a cannabis club. The windows were high-up and barred. The front door was guarded with an iron security gate. The whole area was zoned for industrial purposes, Blood said, but the landlord rented that space out to make extra money.

Some time after midnight, a white sedan pulled up and four teenagers jumped out. Blood says they were the same group of kids who had robbed the pot club next door just the night before. Who these kids were is still a matter of debate, since they were never apprehended. But they clearly came ready to score, and they were armed.

Blood was laying in bed with Wartvee when suddenly they heard a large thud, followed by the sound of wood and glass breaking. Unable to break through the metal security door in front, the burglars had opted to kick through a set of loading-dock doors near the side of the house. To do that, they stationed one guy below while the other three went across the street, sprinted up to the house, jumped up in the air, and kicked in the doors on the way down. The first guy caught them after they collided with the doors.

Within moments, the wood splintered and caved in. Blood and Wartvee panicked. "I was like, 'There are people breaking in, get out the back window,'" Blood remembered. Wartvee reached for the window and found it all barred up. "There weren't breaker bars, and it wouldn't budge," Blood said. "We were like sitting ducks." Just then, he heard footsteps.

Blood threw himself against the bedroom door. "I was like, 'Screw it.' I didn't want them to get in the room and kill us both." He heard the burglars creep through the house and up to the bedroom. He felt someone's weight on the other side of the door and heard the knob turn and stick. Then he heard a shot.

He was shot once, in the head. A .22 caliber bullet had gone straight through the door, behind his right ear, and into his skull. He collapsed, and the trigger man jimmied the door open a crack, just enough to start firing around the room. Within seconds the whole door and a blanket on the bed were riddled with bullet holes. "If I didn't go down by the first shot," said Blood, "I would have been killed by fire."

Wartvee ducked and escaped gunfire. The four burglars fled the house with nothing, jumped in their getaway car, and sped away. Wartvee wrapped a towel around her knee and pressed it against her boyfriend's head. When the ambulance arrived, Blood was surrounded by a pool of blood that spread several feet.

"When they found him ..." Linda said, "they looked at him and said, 'He's dead, he's gone.'"

Blood's memory of the subsequent events is rosier than those of the friends who came to watch over him. He describes being stuck in a coma is tantamount to sleeping for a very long time. You cycle through dream after dream after dream, each one more detailed than the last. You hear people talking in the room and their conversations bleed into your psyche. Dark bleeds into light, shadows lengthen and recede, without your knowledge of any time passing. "When I woke up, I thought I'd only slept one night," said Blood. "I was like, 'Mom, what happened?'"

Actually, it didn't happen the way that Blood remembers, Howse recalled. "It wasn't like in the movies, where they just wake up," he said. "There were a couple times during the coma where he showed signs. Then they would fade again. I remember the doctors telling him to move his hand, and he would move his hand. Or move his foot. It wasn't like someone just wakes up, and they're like, 'Oh man, I have a story to tell you!'"

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