A 5-year-old boy who lost his stepmother and two sisters in the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas has asked for Christmas cards as he spends the holidays in the hospital recovering from his five gunshot wounds.
Ryland Ward's grandmother, Sandy Ward, has asked supporters to send her grandson Christmas cards to keep his spirits lifted as he continues to receive medical treatments after he was shot once in the elbow, twice in the stomach and twice in the leg.
She came up with the idea after witnessing the little boy's face light up after receiving a surprise holiday delivery, local news outlets report.
Ryland's stepmother, Joann, and her daughters, Brooke Ward, 5, and 7-year-old Emily Garza, were among 26 killed in the Nov. 5 attack, the state's deadliest mass shooting in modern history. The boy's eldest sister Rianna, 9, who was also at the church during the attack, had a bullet graze off her glasses but survived the shooting
"They still haven't told [Ryland] yet that his mom and sisters are dead, but I'm sure he's kind of getting some kind of idea because he's 5," Sandy told ABC affiliate KSAT on Tuesday.
Ward said despite everything, Ryland is always smiling -- and appreciates even the smallest gesture of kindness.
"You got so many nice people that are sending a card and a dollar to Ryland," she said. "He does really enjoy that a lot."
On Thursday, the Ryland's family shared a health update on the child's GoFundMe page, revealing that while his injuries are still serious, he's been moved to the hospital's intermediate floor -- meaning he's "one step closer to home"
"Ryland's surgery today to put a stint in his kidney was a success," reads a previous update. "If it holds, it will remain in place 6 weeks. Please pray it holds and that he will not lose a kidney. This young warrior has many battles to overcome."
Mail cards to:
P.O. Box 174, Sutherland Springs, Texas, 78161
The gunman was identified as 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley from New Braunfels, Texas, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 2010 to 2014, and was court-martialed in May 2014.
Kelley reportedly walked into the church and began indiscriminately shooting around 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 5. The mass shooting came to an end after Stephen Willeford, 55, a nearby neighbor and church volunteer, grabbed his own AR-15 and helped chase down Kelley.
"I was scared to death. I was," Willeford later told reporters.. "I'm no hero, I am not. I think my God, my Lord protected me, and gave me the skills to do what needed to be done."
"And I just wish I could have gotten there faster," he explained. "But I didn't know. I didn't know what was happening."
Meanwhile, Pastor Frank Pomeroy and his wife, Sherri, whose 14-year-old daughter was among those killed, said that their faith is stronger than ever after the shooting.
"If I give up on the mission now, that means those 26 died in vain," Pomeroy said. "The whole 15 years I've been a pastor, [God's] been preparing me. This is my Super Bowl, if you will. God said, 'OK, let's see where you're at.'"
Earlier, the pastor revealed to NBC News that at least three dozen people have told him they've reconnected with their faith in the wake of the worst mass shooting in Texas history,
"But even more so now that I know there's 26 more martyrs that have laid down their life for that battle and the Lord left me here, I feel, means that He wanted me to continue that fight for Him in their names as well," he said.
The pastor admitted it's "hard to cope" during the holiday season, particularly as Christmas was his daughter Annabelle's favorite time of year.
"But I know Annabelle would have still wanted that Christmas music on," he said. "She would want the holidays to proceed - it was her favorite time of the year."