SAN ANTONIO - Ryland Ward was just 5-years-old when he was shot in Sutherland Springs.
Ryland, now 6-years-old, headed home on Thursday from the hospital in San Antonio.
He was escorted by police and firefighters. Ryland rode in a firetruck with the firefighter who pulled him out of the church after the shooting.
Hospital staff gathered around, exchanging hugs and high-fives as they waved goodbye to Ryland.
Welcome home signs and a community of eager people waited by the road just to catch a glimpse of the smiling 6-year-old.
“It was amazing, it was like a big parade,” said Melissa Salinas.
Salinas knew the Ward family, including Ryland’s mother, Joann Ward, who was killed in the shooting.
“It was something he definitely deserved,” she said. “He’s a strong, strong child.”
Salinas’s 6-year-old daughter, Vivian, rides the school bus with Ryland.
“Well, Ryland is a silly guy on my bus, and he really, he really is my friend,” Vivian said.
Salinas said she pulled her daughter out of school to make sure she could wave to her friend.
“He’s our hero, and I’m so proud that his mother succeeded and was able to do that,” Salinas said of Joann’s efforts to save her kids in the shooting.
Ryland lost two sisters in the shooting, along with his mother.
“She guarded and protected all of them, and she did succeed in some of it,” Salinas said, calling her friend’s efforts amazing. “And to see him come home, it gave us some positive outlook from this, because we’ve all been in our own little bubble here.”
People in the community said some days it doesn't feel real.
“We have our good days, and we have our bad days,” said Salinas. “I think I’ve probably maybe cried every day, except for maybe a few days.”
Ryland’s uncle said he was shot five times during the Sutherland Springs shooting.
“When I visited Ryland in the hospital, I told his dad, he’s a tough little Ward boy, he’ll be alright, and he was,” said Terrie Smith, who was best friends with Joann Ward.
Ryland was expected to be hospitalized until February, according to friends of the family.
“We have so much joy to see that he’s come so far,” said Smith. “And he’s doing extremely well.”
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