A Minneapolis police crime scene investigator who survived an ambush shooting outside a child care center testified Monday that she remembers falling to the ground and a masked shooter standing above her before firing a second round at point-blank range.
Critically wounded, Nicole Lenway held onto her neck to stop the bleeding from the bullet wound and tried to get inside the facility for help, but she couldn't get in.
"I found out later they were on lockdown," she said. "I tried to call 911 and they couldn't understand what I was trying to say."
The bullet that struck her vocal cords is still lodged between her ribs. She loves to sing, but doesn't know if she will be able to again because of the damage from the shooting.
"At this point, I'm just lucky to be alive and I'm happy to be able to talk," she said.
In the attempted murder trial in Hennepin County District Court of her ex-boyfriend accused of plotting the attack to gain full custody of their 6-year-old son, Lenway took the witness stand seven months after the shooting that left her intubated in the hospital for days. Unable to speak with police investigators and attorneys, she communicated on paper.
Despite the harrowing details of the shooting that nearly killed her, the majority of Lenway's testimony detailed the four-year child custody battle with Timothy Amacher, a taekwondo master from St. Paul who pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted first-degree murder and aiding an accomplice after the fact in Lenway's shooting.
Amacher's ex-girlfriend, Colleen Purificacion Larson, 25, said Amacher, 41, pressured her into carrying out the shooting in the parking lot of FamilyWise, a supervised visit and exchange center in Minneapolis. Larson is charged with attempted first-degree murder; her trial will be tried separately in January.
Lenway, 33, said she didn't know who shot her, but she knew it was a woman. Later she would discover the shooter allegedly was Larson, who babysat her son before she started dating Amacher and moved in with him. Lenway said she was concerned about their age difference.
Jurors learned on the first day of testimony last week that Amacher met Larson while she was taking classes from him as a teenager. Lenway and Amacher also first met at his martial arts studio before they began dating and moved in together in 2013.
Lenway moved out of Amacher's home in 2015 before finding out she was pregnant. Their son was born in 2016, and they tried to co-parent.
Lenway testified that she married Minneapolis police officer Donovan Ford on Oct. 28. Prosecutors say that when she started dating Ford in 2017, her former boyfriend began filing false reports of child abuse against the couple.
In an effort to stop the allegations, Ford left the Minneapolis Police Department and moved to Colorado for more than a year to work with another force. Lenway testified that the allegations continued even with Ford out of state.
Amacher reported domestic abuse in a case that went to trial in Ramsey County in November 2020. Lenway said Larson testified in support of Amacher and falsely claimed that Lenway and Ford abused her son.
Lenway said she was acquitted and hired an attorney to get her record expunged.
A judge ordered sole custody to Lenway. Amacher was allowed to have supervised visitation once a week at FamilyWise.
During the child custody battle, Lenway said, Larson often picked up their son because of orders for protection she had against Amacher.
Amacher first reported the abuse and filed for custody in 2018; numerous reports followed. Lenway would be contacted by social workers and child services came to her house.
Amacher's attorney, Larry Reed, said Amacher was not involved in the shooting. He said his client was wrongfully accused in a conspiracy by Minneapolis police to get him in trouble for allegedly filing a complaint about Lenway fabricating evidence in the death of Jamar Clark, who was shot and killed in 2015 during a struggle with city officers.
Lenway denied fabricating evidence, and prosecutors say the only person accusing Lenway of doing so is Amacher. Reed said Amacher was only a concerned father who cared for the safety and well-being of his young son.
"When Mr. Amacher expressed concern … and made reports, wouldn't that be reasonable in your mind?" Reed asked Lenway during cross-examination, a point that she conceded.
Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Patrick Lofton said the accusations amounted to little more than harassment.
Lenway testified that even as she lay in the hospital following the shooting, the concerns over her son's custody lingered.
While going over the life-threatening risks of surgery with doctors, she transferred temporary custody of her son to her parents. If she didn't survive, she said, she didn't want him left with Amacher.
"I remember my mom saying to me that she had [him] and he would be OK," Lenway said.
Testimony resumes Tuesday.