AURORA, Colorado – US President Barack Obama personally offered to help the family of 17-year-old mass shooting survivor Ryan Lumba during his recent visit here.
“He (Obama) said if we need help, just call him (through his secretary at the White House),” Ryan’s mother Remy told The Philippine Star.
Remy recalled Obama made a “touching visit” to her son, who is confined at the intensive care unit of the University of Colorado Hospital.
Remy said she was especially touched when the President, upon learning she was the victim’s mother, looked at her and said, “You need a hug.”
“He hugged me. I never expected he would hug me,” she exclaimed.
Remy said it was her husband Sam who shed tears at the scene.
Sam, who suffered a stroke last December that left him partially paralyzed, has become more emotional in the aftermath of the shooting, she said.
Remy described Obama as “very dignified-looking.”
During the visit, Obama talked to Ryan and inquired about school.
Ryan, who could only speak in a low voice, managed to smile. “He was happy,” said his mother.
Besides Obama’s aides, the only people in the hospital room were the Lumba couple and Remy’s brother-in-law and his wife.
“It was just us family. No one else was allowed to be in there,” she said.
The Lumbas were informed ahead that Obama would be visiting them.
The Filipino community here, on the other hand, has launched a fundraising program for Ryan.
Rolly Guevarra, president of the Philippine American Society of Colorado (PASCO), said they set up the Ryan C. Lumba benefit fund to allow donations to the family struck by major hardships these past months.
Ryan, who sustained a gunshot wound in the stomach a week ago, would require hospital care for at least a month, including ICU confinement of about two weeks.
His parents are currently unemployed as his now partially paralyzed father needs 24-hour care from his mother.
Remy underwent major surgery a few months before her husband suffered a stroke.
“They are facing some tough challenges. We’d like to come as a community to help them,” Guevara said.
Remy said her family is grateful for the outpouring of support from the community.
“We are getting a strong support system,” she said.
The Lumba couple travels everyday to the hospital to care for Ryan, their only child who, although in stable condition, has manifested post-traumatic stress.
“He’s still terrified at the thought of the attacker. Nanginginig siya (He trembles),” she said.
Ryan was at Theater 9 of Century 16 Cinema, where the suspected gunman James Eagan Holmes had chosen to fire randomly into the audience, killing 12 people and wounding 58 others.
Wearing military armor, Holmes was armed with an assault rifle, shotgun, and pistol. It was the shotgun that is believed to have hit Ryan in the stomach.
A shotgun pellet disperses and crushes the tissue that it comes in direct contact with, which explains several holes in Ryan’s intestines, Remy said.
“The surgeon told me it was a good thing that the bullet came out and didn’t go higher to the heart,” she said.
Ryan has undergone two surgeries and is stable but continues to stay at the Burn and Trauma ICU of the University of Colorado Hospital.
Ryan receives a routine evaluation by a psychologist at the hospital.
Two other Filipinos, Manuel Pacis, 52, and his 23-year-old daughter Priscilla, were also at the premiere showing of the latest Batman movie.
They survived the attack with no injuries but they received counseling within the first week of the tragedy.
The two, along with Priscilla’s fiancé Chris, managed to get out of the theater unharmed. But like the rest, they felt the same terror and confusion brought on by the armed attacker.
A few days later, Priscilla would still cry and panic at any sudden noise.
The three of them were seated on the fourth row in the front section of the theater. The gunman appeared and started shooting from the right side. “We were close,” Manuel said, adding that they ducked to the floor as soon as he sensed the danger and waited for a chance to get out.
“Everything might have happened in five minutes but it surely felt longer than that,” he said.
Manuel said the three of them were among the last to run out of the crowded theater.