A 5-year-old boy who lost his mother and two of his sisters in the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, which left 26 people dead and 20 others injured is fighting to stay alive after he was found among the pews suffering from multiple gunshot wounds on Sunday.
The boy, Ryland Ward, was shot in his stomach, groin and arm, his uncle Michael Ward told The Dallas Morning News. His mother, Joann Ward, and sisters Brooke Ward, 5, and Emily Garza, 7, did not survive. Another sibling, Rihanna, survived after a bullet ripped her glasses from her face.
On Sunday, shooting suspect Devin Kelley, 26, began firing at the church shortly after the 11 a.m. service began, officials told The New York Times. He was armed with a Ruger military-style rifle and in his minutes-long assault on the church everyone inside was either dead or wounded.
Ryland's aunt, Leslie Ward, who lives just a few blocks from the church, said she and her husband Michael, whose brother Chris is Ryland's father, were busy getting ready for a yard sale when they heard shots firing.
"Bam bam bam bam!" the shots came so fast, Leslie told The Dallas Morning News.
They quickly learned that there was a shooter inside the church and Michael immediately went to alert his brother who was taking a nap after working the night shift. Chris was a little bit angry and confused when Michael woke him up and told him what happened at first but once everything registered he ran barefoot from his house toward the church.
Leslie Ward told The New York Daily News that when she got to the church she found Ryland and his mom lying among the pews of the church.
"I found my nephew in the front, in pain," she said. "It was bad. There was just dead bodies everywhere. It wasn't what I wanted to see but at the time, I wasn't worried about it. I was worried about finding my family."
She said she held the boy and comforted him until help arrived.
Michael told The Dallas Morning News that Ryland was awake but wasn't talking when a helicopter took him to University Hospital in San Antonio.
"It's unreal at first," he said, recalling the scene. "The church of all places."
Heather Bradley, a cousin of the boy's family from San Saba, Texas, revealed in a GoFundMe campaign seeking to raise $100,000 to help pay for his medical bills, says the 5 year old is now on a long journey to recovery.
"Right now he is in critical condition on a breathing tube looking to make it but going to be long journey. He was shot 5 times once in the elbow, twice in the stomach, and twice in the leg. He is 5 years old with a big heart for his other siblings, friends, and family," she wrote on Sunday.
Nearly $50,000 of the fundraising goal had been raised as of Tuesday morning as the campaign went viral and donors reacted to the tragedy that has befallen Ryland and his family.
"Words cannot express my sadness for this little boy. I've never met him, probably never will. But as a fellow American, as a fellow human being, I cry for him today as if he were my family," campaign donor Logan Thoreau wrote early Tuesday.