SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas — A six-year-old boy who miraculously survived a horrific shooting massacre at his church in Texas received a warm welcome on Thursday as he was finally able to come home from the hospital.
Ryland Ward was transported home in a fire truck, being greeted at University Hospital by numerous firefighters and their mascot, Sparky. Law enforcement officials also were a part of the escort, both on motorcycle and in police vehicles.
The way home was lined with jubilant supporters holding signs along the road that read “Welcome home Ryland,” “Yay buddy” and “Glad you’re back!”
Ward waved out the window to those who had gathered to welcome him.
“Ryland and his family are happy to be going home,” University Health System said in a statement. “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.”
Ward was transported by the same firefighter who met him that terrible day that Devin Kelley, 26, walked into First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs and opened fire on the approximately 50-member congregation. 26 people died from the Nov. 5 shooting, including Ward’s stepmother and two sisters, ages 5 and 7.
Stockdale Assistant Fire Chief Rusty Duncan was a first responder that morning, and began walking through the pews, checking those on the ground for pulses.
“That’s where Ryland’s hand reached out from under his stepmom and grabbed my pant leg,” he recalled to ABC News. “I rolled her over and grabbed him and started running outside with him.”
“As soon as we got him outside, his dad ran up to me and said, ‘They killed my baby.’ “And I told his dad, ‘No, he’s not dead. He’s still alive,'” Duncan continued. “Unfortunately, his wife and two girls were actually gone.”
Ward suffered five gunshot wounds—two in his leg, two in his stomach and one in his arm—and had to have multiple surgeries in the weeks the followed. He has been obtaining physical therapy, and was promised a fire truck ride home upon his release.
Duncan, who visited Ward in the hospital, drove the boy home on Thursday, honking the horn happily as he went.
“He wanted me to go faster. He wanted the siren to be louder. And he wanted me to honk more at all the people,” Duncan told reporters. “He was having a blast.”
“All the people waving at him, he loved it,” he added. “He couldn’t believe how many people were there with him.”
Some along the route shed tears of joy and/or cheered as they saw Ward going by in the fire truck.
“Just happy the Lord brought him home and he’s doing good,” one woman told local television station KSAT. “Total joy. This is our town; this is our family.”