The last victim still hospitalized after a gunman opened fire at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November left the hospital Thursday, receiving a grand ride home in the front seat of a firetruck.
Ryland Ward, 6, was among 20 others who were wounded when the First Baptist Church came under attack on Nov. 5. Ward had been shot five times in the elbow, stomach and leg, and was also having issues with his kidney and a shattered femur.
The gunman killed 26 people, including Ward’s stepmother, Joann, and his two sisters, 5-year-old Brooke Ward and 7-year-old Emily Garza.
“Many of us at University Health System who have been touched by the strength and spirit of Ryland and the other Sutherland Springs patients celebrate this milestone with them and their families,” hospital spokeswoman Elizabeth Allen said. Ward celebrated his 6th birthday during his hospital stay.
With a procession of patrol cars and other firetrucks escorting him, Ward rode home in a firetruck — driven by firefighter Rusty Duncan — from the hospital in San Antonio to Sutherland Springs.
Duncan told the San Antonio Express-News he was the responder who rescued Ward from the church after it had been attacked.
“I was just checking for survivors, and I felt a little tug on my pant leg,” Duncan said. “I had no idea what it was. I looked down and a little hand was coming from under somebody.”
While the procession was driving the some 45 minutes to Sutherland Springs, motorists pulled to the side of the road into town, and some stepped from their vehicles and waved at the child.
Shannon Demski, who used her phone to track the procession from the hospital, told the newspaper that she believes Ward “is proof that Texans stand strong for each other.”
Another nearby resident, Terri Adams, said that their “prayers have been answered.”
“He suffered a great injury but he remained strong and has recovered beyond what anyone expected,” Adams said.
The truck then carried the child past a sheriff’s barricade to his house, which was kept off-limits to the public.
A GoFundMe page set up the day of the mass shooting in Ward’s honor has raised more than $156,000 of its $200,000 goal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.