The youngest survivor of last month's mass shooting at a Texas church remains in a San Antonio hospital room which his family says is packed with thousands of Christmas cards, sent from around the world to support five year old Ryland Ward's recovery, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The cards started pouring in, Ryland's great uncle Earl McMahan said, after a local police department posted on social media that all the five year old wanted was Christmas cards, and gave an address to where they could be sent.
McMahan said at San Antonio's University Hospital, where Ryland is the only one of the twenty people who were wounded when a gunman opened fire on the congregation of the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs during services on November 5 to still be a patient, that the cards are a big boost in helping the boy recover after he was shot five times. 26 people were killed.
"Every card that we give him we open and and read, let him see what's in it," McMahan said. "Actually, he tears the cards open and we read them to him after he takes the money out."
McMahan said the cash gifts which have been donated through the cards or other donation efforts will help pay the boy's ongoing medical costs. He says many of the cards contain messages.
"Just giving him praise for being such a strong little boy, and an inspiration for a lot of people."
McMahon joked that Ryland's smile gets so big when he sees the cards, 'I'm surprised his jaw doesn't hurt.'
Ryland is out of intensive care but is still facing numerous medical procedures before he can go home, which McMahon hopes is before his sixth birthday on January 5.
"Right now he has a brace on his leg with screws and pins through his hip down to his femur. His arm is wrapped, he has been having skin grafts for that, they have done all they can, there will be more surgeries later on, but we will take it as we go."
He says Ryland is now able to move through the hospital in his wheelchair. "You'll see him being wheeled around the hospital, he loves to look at the tree," he said, adding that he has engaged in 'silly string fights' in the lobby.'
He also said he wanted to thank not only the first responders who arrived at the scene of the shooting that Sunday, but also Ryland's stepmom, Joann Ward, who threw herself on top of Ryland when the shooting began. She died, but Ryland survived.
McMahan says what has amazed him is the limitless capacity of the American people for compassion. "We just had two major hurricanes hit the United States and the devastation there, and then this happens," he said. "And the way that everybody still comes together and helps out."
PHOTO: UNIVERSITY HOSPTIAL