By Peter D'Oench

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A 22-year-old Miami man who was paralyzed in a drive-by shooting seven years ago says he is now going to devote his life to helping others.

Aaron Willis was a 15-year-old 9th-grade student at Booker T. Washington High School when he was shot in the back while riding his bicycle home near midtown Miami. It happened at 8:20 p.m. on December 19th, 2012.

“I want to be where I can go in the world and change people’s lives so I have decided to change my major at Miami-Dade College from psychology to social work so I can get in touch with the families that need help,” Willis told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench.

“My father Sammie died from cancer two years ago after being at my side and he always inspired me to help others,” he said.

“It’s what I want to do.”

CBS4 has profiled Aaron Willis over the years since the drive-by happened.

Aaron Willis was 15-years-old when he was shot in the back while riding his bicycle home near midtown Miami. He’s now 22. (CBS4)

The drive-by at Northwest 1 Ave. and 28 Street, which nearly took his life forever, altered his outlook.

“Since I have been shot life had thrown me a lot of challenges,” he said.

“The only thing it makes me say is that every day is a new opportunity that sounds better. Yesterday might be bad and yesterday you might be angry at the world but today’s a new day and I wake up and I want to be more positive.”

Willis did not see the gunman’s face because it was dark and he was shot in the back. He does recall the gunman left in an older model, white Nissan Maxima.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said. “When I realized how late it was getting and I turned around I noticed I had to go home. That’s when I heard the shots go off. I thought it was firecrackers. There were bullets flying by my ears and the next thing I noticed I was on the floor and I could feel nothing below my waist.”

He spent 5 weeks at Jackson Memorial Hospital. At the time, he said, “I feel they didn’t have to shoot me. I didn’t do anything, I don’t think they realized who they were shooting at.”

The shooter is still at large which does not seem to upset Willis.

“I have already forgiven that person,” he said. “Who it was at the end of the day if he gets caught, if he is going to be caught, it is up to God,” said Willis.

Willis has tried to stay busy since graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in 2016 and as an advocate against gun violence in a play in 2017 at Florida International University.

With daily help from his mother Katherine, the wheelchair-bound Willis now attends classes as a sophomore at Miami-Dade College and goes to therapy 3 days a week.

“For me, life in a wheelchair hasn’t been easy,” he said.

His mother has been at his side ever since his father Sammie died from cancer two years ago.

“It’s been hard ever since my husband passed away,” said Katherine Willis.

“He’s my son and I love him. I am proud that he wants to be a social worker.”

“Helping other people has always been a big thing for me,” said Willis. “My dad was always my role model and who I looked up so whatever he wanted I always followed through on.”

Willis has been invited to speak at schools as an inspiration to others.

“I would say thank you to others because I am trying to be an inspiration to myself,” said Willis. “Doing this every day is not easy. For those of you who think every day is a cakewalk for me, it is not so. At the end of the day, you got to try just like me.”

Despite his challenges, Willis says he is determined to never give up.

Peter D'Oench

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