Last November, a little town in southeast Texas experienced the worst church shooting in U.S. history.
Families were ripped apart. The community was devastated. And the town will never be the same.
But a couple months after the horrific event, the town finally got some heartwarming news.
Volunteer firefighter Rusty Duncan got the call when the unthinkable happened at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in southeast Texas.
It was Nov. 5, 2017. A 26-year-old man named Devin Patrick Kelley walked into the rural church and started firing a semi-automatic rifle. When the bullets stopped flying, 26 people were dead and 20 were wounded.
Firefighter Rusty was one of the first people on the scene. He found a roomful of carnage before the unexpected happened.
“I was just checking for survivors, and I felt a little tug on my pant leg,” Rusty told the San Antonio Express-News. “I looked down and a little hand was coming from under somebody.”
The hand was 6-year-old Ryland Ward’s. He lost his two sisters and his step-mom and he also took six bullets to his tiny frame, but somehow survived.
“His arm’s messed up where he was shot,” Ryland’s grandma Sandra Ward told NBC News. “His lower intestine, his bladder — it just goes on and on.”
Firefighter Rusty rushed Ryland to San Antonio’s University Hospital, where doctors began the long process of bringing the 6-year-old back to health.
Ryland ended up staying in the hospital for two full months. He received thousands of Christmas cards and $160,000 toward his hospital bills through a GoFundMe campaign. But the person who perhaps helped him the most was Rusty.
When Rusty first visited Ryland in the hospital, the boy was being wheeled down the hall with a bundle of monitoring equipment trailing behind him. Rusty asked Ryland if he knew who he was.
Ryland’s great-uncle Earl McMahan, who witnessed the meeting, said, “They stared at each other for what seemed like eternity, though it was probably a few minutes. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the lobby.”
Later, when it was time for Ryland to go home, Rusty was there for him again.
Firefighter Rusty gave Ryland another ride, but this one much more triumphant. Ryland sat in front of Rusty’s fire truck and was followed by a convoy of 100 vehicles.
Ryland waved to his community, thanking them for being there for him during the incredibly difficult time. He even had a smile on his face though he had been through so much.
“He’s one happy little boy right now,” Wilson County Fire Marshal Edwin Baker said. “He got to ride in a fire truck and talk on the radio, and he was a captain for the day.”
Now Ryland is home and recovering, thanks to the support of his doctors, his community and firefighter Rusty.
Isn’t that wonderful?
Watch a news report about this touching story here:
Didn’t firefighter Rusty go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure Ryland was feeling better? Share to pay tribute to this incredible firefighter and to pay your respects to the men and women who work every day to make sure we’re all safe!