For now, when her daughters ask about the feeding tube that snakes from her nose to her belly, Tiffany Gilliam tells them that Mommy’s sick.

One day, but only when she has to, the 32-year-old mother of five will tell them what she has already told police: Daddy shot Mommy in the face, and nearly killed her.

In the still-dark, early-morning hours of Dec. 10, Gilliam was leaving the West Philadelphia apartment she shared with a cousin to catch a ride to work at the post office where she had started a seasonal job.

She caught a shadow of a figure emerging from an alley behind her. She couldn’t make out who it was, but she could see that the person was holding a gun.

“Oh man,” she thought, “somebody’s about to rob me.”

As the person got closer, she realized it was her ex-boyfriend, the father of her two youngest children, ages 6 and 2. She tried to rush to a friend’s waiting car, but he sped up and cut her off, blocking her from her friend’s view.

“Where you going?” she recalled her ex asking.

“I’m going to work,” she told him, telling him to go home.

“No,” he said, “you’re not.”

Gilliam had been there before, she recalled when we talked this week, caught in the crosshairs of his accusations and anger.

She knew she was in trouble.

As he raised the gun, she lifted her arm to protect herself and bumped his hand. The bullet ricocheted off her phone’s purple cover, but hit her face — the flash of the gunshot caught on a surveillance camera from a nearby day care on 67th Street and Lansdowne Avenue.

“I felt like my whole face exploded,” she said.

Tiffany Gilliam, 32, shows her phone case with dried blood on it from the day of the shooting.
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Tiffany Gilliam, 32, shows her phone case with dried blood on it from the day of the shooting.

As he ran off, Gilliam reached for her face and felt a rush of blood and bone and teeth that she ended up swallowing. She turned to her friend’s waiting car and banged on the windows, screaming that she’d been shot.

All the way to the hospital, and while doctors rushed to treat her, she yelled:

“Timothy McGorder shot me! My child’s father shot me! He shot me in my face!”

Gilliam thought she was going to die. She wanted to make sure he didn’t get away with killing her.

Philadelphia police later arrested McGorder, 29, after he turned himself in. He is charged with attempted murder and other related charges. He is currently in jail, held on $1 million bail as he awaits a preliminary hearing later this month. His lawyer, William McFadden Davis, declined to comment.

At Jefferson Hospital, doctors attempted to put Gilliam’s face back together, stitching up her nose and mouth where the bullet blew a gaping hole above her top lip. The bullet broke bones in her face and shattered nasal passages, making it hard for her to breathe.

Gilliam’s mother, Tracy Brown, was on her way to celebrate her 49th birthday when she got the call. “Tiffany’s been shot!” As she rushed to her side, she said she feared the man she had repeatedly begged her oldest daughter to leave had finally killed her. She’d come to Tiffany’s aid in the past, she said. But he’d always find his way back into her daughter’s life.

Sometimes, as court papers show, Gilliam would press charges. One time, Gilliam said, when police responded to her call and she hesitated to tell them what happened, her then-4-year-old stepped in: “Daddy knocked her tooth out.”

Gilliam finally decided she was done.

Tiffany Gilliam, 32, at her mother's house
MONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer
Tiffany Gilliam, 32, at her mother's house

“She just wanted her life back to normal and decided she wanted out, but he didn’t want to let go,” Brown said. After Gilliam was shot, and McGorder’s photo was plastered on TV and social media, people around her neighborhood realized that they’d recently seen him lurking around. He’d been watching her.

At the hospital, Gilliam remembers being in and out of consciousness until she awoke to one of her sister’s caressing her head.

“Sis, we have the kids.” It was the last thing she remembers before slipping back under.

Gilliam needs extensive prosthetic and reconstructive surgery. Except for a few teeth held in place with wires, she lost all of them. Some procedures are covered by Medicaid, but she’s already had to fight them for others, considered — outrageously — cosmetic. Without adequate health care and with no job, Gilliam and her children are being supported by her mother, a longtime employee of the postal service. Brown moved them back into her home, and started a GoFundMe to help her daughter.

At first, Gilliam was consumed with rage and thoughts of vengeance, especially when her daughters asked about their father. “Mommy, where’s Daddy? Can we go home?”

“I don’t know what to say,” she said. “I don’t want them to be angry. I was in shock. I’m still in shock. I want to know why.”

But now, as Gilliam gets closer to surgery that might allow her to eat solid food again, she’s turned more reflective. Last year, more women in Philadelphia were shot and killed then in any other year in more than a decade. Three months before Gilliam was shot, another Philly woman was shot in the face, killed with her 6-month-old son next to her.

That could have been her.