Reporting Peter D’Oench
Neighbors 4 Neighbors
MIAMI (CBS4) — It was a site that brought tears to the eyes of Sammie Willis, whose 15-year-old son Aaron was paralyzed from the waist down on December 19th when a bullet struck him in the back in a drive-by shooting.
For the first time since that crime, Willis was able to see his son get out of his wheelchair and move around on his own as he used his hands to maneuver a power scooter on the sidewalks near his apartment.
The power scooter was a gift to Aaron Willis from the group, S.T.E.P.S. in the Right Direction, which also gave Willis a hospital bed and a comforter for that bed. They were among several gifts Willis received on Friday in a project initiated by CBS4’s Neighbors 4 Neighbors and was one of the biggest collaborations recently between Neighbors 4 Neighbors and the community.
Neighbors 4 Neighbors has been working on the project for weeks.
“I feel good,” said Aaron Willis. “It makes me feel better about getting in a wheelchair. I feel good about this scooter. Now all I can think about is I can sit down. Now I have something to push me around since I can’t walk anymore.”
With tears streaming down his face, an emotional Sammie Willis told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “Every tear I’ve dropped is a tear of joy, of gratitude and the power of the love I have for everybody. This is such a heartfelt thing. I mean words can not express how I feel because they can not describe it because this shows how many people care about my son and they have been touched in their hearts.”
His son also received a comforter for his new hospital bed from Neighbors 4 Neighbors, a computer desk and a computer from CBS4 and software for his computer from the Dynamic ITT Group. Comcast is donating internet services for Aaron’s computer. And the South Florida Youth Foundation helped renovate and refurbish his apartment, thanks to funding from a donor named Jeff Miller.
Michael Salem of S.T.E.P.S. in the Right Direction told D’Oench, “We have a commitment to the community. Aaron represents this community. Every child in this community matters. Every child.”
Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho also stopped by Aaron’s apartment for a visit and told D’Oench that he too was donating a computer to help Aaron with his school work and said he believed that he would be returning to Booker T. Washington High School where’s a 9th grader after spring break.
Carvalho referred to Aaron as “my buddy.” The Superintendent recently took Willis to the play, “Les Miserables” at the Adrienne Arsht Center and planned to take him to the production “Rising Stars” at the New World School of Arts on Friday night.
Carvalho said “He exemplifies all that’s good about our community and what people do for him represents all that the community should stand up for.”
Carvalho also spoke with Willis about the Public Service Announcement that was created Thursday by Movie Director Billy Corben, who donated his time and services to help get a message out about violence against teenagers.
Carvalho and other representatives of the organizations applauded as Aaron moved from his wheelchair into his power scooter and then maneuvered it to the sidewalks around his apartment in Overtown.
“It’s such a great thing. It has lifted all our spirits, especially the spirits of Aaron,” said Sammie Willis. “Because by George he deserves the best of everything he can get and he’s a good guy and I still love him.”
“I never expected a crowd of people, a group of people, a whole bevy of people to come running to our aid. Things are being done here that we never ever could have done without the aid.”
“The future just won’t stop because he’s the bottom doesn’t work,” he said. “He’s got a head and he’s got a heart and that’s going to take the place of his legs if they never work again. I’m not saying that they won’t. I hope they will.”
“I thought I was emotional and getting over it but this has just started it all over again,” he said. “It is just so beautiful.”
Aaron Willis was shot in the back while riding his bicycle at 8:20 at night in midtown Miami at Northwest 1st Avenue and 28th Street. He did not see the shooter.
Police do not have a description of the suspects but they have said they believe the shooter and the driver fled in an older model, white Nissan Maxima.
Miami Police have asked for help with this case and urge anyone with information about this case to call them or Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at (305) 471-TIPS (8477).