(NY DAILY NEWS) – He’s braver than his favourite superhero and has special powers of his own.
Little Jaheem Hunter— the boy who barely survived a gunshot to the head last year on his fifth birthday — will bravely return a year later to the same Bronx street where a stray bullet nearly ended his life to celebrate turning 6. This time the resilient boy comes with a defiant message: Stop shooting our children.
This time the resilient boy comes with a defiant message: Stop shooting our children.
“We want the violence to stop. That’s why we are going back to the same street where he got shot,” said his sister and legal guardian Aja Holmes. “We are killing our children or their lives are being changed forever. God is good. I’m blessed. It’s been a year of trials and blessings.”
Relatives are dubbing the event “Beating Gun Violence, Jaheem is Turning 6” to advocate for gun control. Politicians, including City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, advocates and area children will join Jaheem at the street-fair style party.
Little Jaheem could not wait. The boy ran excitedly around his Yonkers apartment when the sister he sees as a mother reminded him of the party scheduled for Saturday. He tried on a Spider-Man t-shirt and pretended to shoot spider webs out of his hands like his favorite Marvel superhero.
Holmes’ son, Josiah, 5, egged him on pretending to be Batman.
“I’m Spider-Man!” Jaheem exclaimed.
“Yes, I’m excited for my party.” Holmes was elated to see Jaheem jumping and giggling despite his still tender body.
“He began calling me Mommy. He did it on his own. My son and him are like brothers. He protects Jaheem. They are all I have,” she said.
Jaheem’s birthday — he turned 6 on June 5 — marked 12 months of surgeries, rehab and a healing scar across his head that reminds her of the titanium plate doctors placed on his little skull.
“I lost count on the number of surgeries he’s been through. He had his last one just last week. He has to learn how to walk, how to talk, how to eat. He forgets he has a right arm,” she said gesturing at the visible scar.
“His right side was paralyzed. He had a titanium plate put in. And he has seizures. I call him my little Iron Man because of the plate on his head.”
Jaheem giggled at the nickname. “I love Iron Man,” he said.
Holmes said planning for Jaheem’s birthday took her back to that tragic day when he nearly lost his life.
She remembers Jaheem and his dad going for a walk outside his Morrisania apartment in the Bronx when a heartless gunman fired at a rival. The fateful bullet pierced Jaheem’s tiny skull.Holmes knew she had seconds to act.
“I just remember a lot of blood. I drove him frantically to the hospital. It was a mother’s instinct. I felt like God was guiding me,” she recalled.
“If I had waited for the ambulance he would had died. He stopped breathing as soon as we got to the hospital. The doctors told me he had taken his last breath. They saved his life.”
Doctors placed Jaheem in a medically induced coma at New York-Presbyterian Hospital Columbia for months. She felt devastated seeing the scrawny boy breathing with the aid of a ventilator.
“He’s my miracle boy, my little superhero,” she said with a smile. “He’s been through a lot. He can be in a lot of pain. But he’ll say, ‘No, I’m OK, because he doesn’t want to go the hospital. He’s traumatized.”
Despite his impressive progress, the boy faces a long recovery ahead, she said.
“He’s going to have to have a lot of therapy. He’s not the same boy he was before,” she said. “But he knows I’m here for him.”
Holmes also wants to protect other children like Jaheem from gun-toting criminals like the man who shot him. She wants to make sure the accused triggerman, Michael Quiles, 27, stays in jail. He was arrested a day after the shooting and faces attempted murder, assault and gun possession charges.
“I don’t want to talk about him in front of Jaheem. It’s too much for him. But I will keep an eye on his case,” she whispered as Jaheem played with a Leap Frog game on the living room floor.
For now, Holmes and Jaheem will forge ahead. Holmes said aside from celebrating Jaheem’s impressive year of recovery, she hopes the boy’s birthday celebration will bring change to the city’s rampant gun culture.
“There’s a lot of gun violence going on in America. Our children are dying. I’m from there, from where it happened. This needs to change,” she said. “We moved to Yonkers to get away from all of this. But we are coming back because we need to be there. This is not just for Jaheem. This is for the community.”