- Associated Press - Friday, December 16, 2016

FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) - A University of Alabama student died after being hospitalized for more than a year since he was shot in the head by a friend’s uncle during a Florida vacation.

Rivers Starkey, 23, died Thursday at a hospital in his hometown of Florence, his father, Trey Starkey, told al.com (https://bit.ly/2hW3RLZ ).

“We appreciate all the prayers and support from so many people during this time,” Trey Starkey said. “We are proud to know that Rivers has had such an impact on so many lives.”

Starkey had traveled to Navarre, Florida, during his holiday break in October 2015 when he and a friend ended up at the home of John Marshall Fitzgerald, the friend’s uncle.

“According to Rivers’ friend, as the night progressed Mr. Fitzgerald became increasingly verbally abusive to Rivers,” said Cheryl Starkey, the student’s aunt. “At first he appeared to be joking and then became more personal and abusive in his remarks.”

An argument broke out and Fitzgerald demanded that his nephew and Starkey leave the home. When they refused, Fitzgerald left the room and returned with a handgun.

Fitzgerald later testified in court that Starkey tried to grab the gun and they struggled. Fitzgerald shot Starkey several times, including twice in the head.

Fitzgerald stood trial for second-degree attempted murder and other charges in Florida. A jury acquitted him last week, finding Fitzgerald had acted in self-defense under the state’s stand your ground law.

As he fought to live, Starkey was treated at a hospital in Pensacola, Florida, and then at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, which specializes in spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation. Eventually he was moved to Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital in Florence, where he died.

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