ST. LOUIS • Christopher McClendon saw the tip of the handgun and promised his attackers he wouldn’t make any false moves.
Just leave me with my wheelchair and let me live, he pleaded.
McClendon said he was driving through St. Louis’ Dutchtown neighborhood Thursday morning when two robbers — one with a gun — approached the driver’s side of his SUV and ordered him to get out.
The robbers pulled him into the street and drove off in his silver 1999 Mercedes ML320, a gift from his mother when he started college two years ago. He can’t understand why they would pick him, a paraplegic and junior legal studies major at Webster University.
“I really just want to close my eyes and wake up and start all over again,” said McClendon, 25, of St. Louis. “I can’t believe this has happened.”
McClendon said he was paralyzed from the waist down when he was struck by a drunken driver in St. Louis as he and his mother walked to church one Christmas Eve in 1994.
He said he was driving his specially equipped SUV to pick up his girlfriend about 7 a.m. Thursday when he stopped at Meramec Street and Ray Avenue to check a bad axle. McClendon looked into the back seat to retrieve his wheelchair, and as he did so, two robbers approached, according to police.
One of the robbers pointed a gun through the open driver’s side window, McClendon said. They demanded money and ordered him out of the car. Then they pulled him out.
“I begged repeatedly for my wheelchair,” McClendon said. “I was bawling and crying and asking them to give me my wheels.”
The robbers tossed the body of the wheelchair out of the vehicle before leaving the scene but left the detached rear wheels in the vehicle before speeding off, McClendon said.
He said he then scooted along the pavement and hid behind a parked truck until he could flag down a woman walking by. McClendon said he borrowed her cellphone to call police.
The SUV, which has at least 120,000 miles on it and was modified so that he could drive it, was a gift from his mother when he started classes at Webster University, McClendon said. The robbers also took cash and a Bible and prayer book that he kept in the car, he said.
“I was really in fear of my life,” he said.
After the robbery, two St. Louis police officers carried McClendon into their squad car and drove him and the inoperable wheelchair to his home, about a mile from where he was robbed. McClendon said police recovered his vehicle Thursday evening near Shreve Avenue in St. Louis. He said it wasn’t yet clear if the robbers took his wheelchair’s rear wheels.
In addition to using a wheelchair, McClendon said he still lives with constant back pain from the crash and has a pump implanted in his stomach that periodically delivers a dose of a medicine to prevent muscle spasms.
He lives with his mother and teenage brother in Dutchtown.
His mother, Kenya Ellis, said she’s long hoped that her son would be able to live on his own. Just getting him to the point where he could drive was a big step in that direction. She helped pay for outfitting the Mercedes so her son could be more independent. The wheelchair lift on the SUV alone cost $1,500, she said.
Ellis, a nursing assistant, spent Thursday afternoon making phone calls to get her son a replacement wheelchair. To make do, she was having to scoot him around the house in a chair from their kitchen.
She was at a loss to explain how someone could have treated her son so callously.
“We don’t have any enemies,” Ellis said, “or get involved with the wrong crowd.”
McClendon says he lives by a motto he calls the “three F’s” — faith, family and football. Someday, he hopes to turn his obsession with football into a career as a professional sports agent.
After several hours without a wheelchair, McClendon received a temporary replacement from a medical supplies vendor, which he said was a huge relief. And now he’s attempting to move forward.
“I’m trying to continue my day regularly,” McClendon said.
Stephen Deere, Erik Lunsford and Patrick M. O’Connell of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.