Life for Ryland Ward has been a series of small victories and extended periods of waiting since he was shot in last month’s massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The 5-year-old boy was shot five times when a gunman opened fire on the congregation at First Baptist Church on Nov. 5, killing 26, including Ryland’s stepmother, JoAnne Ward, and two sisters.
Ryland has remained in the hospital ever since, waiting for the day doctors say he is clear to return home.
“I’ve heard, ‘He’ll be out by Christmas,’ then ‘six to eight weeks,’ so we’re kind of just waiting to see what happens,” Ryland’s grandmother, Sandy Stokes Ward, told InsideEdition.com. “Before all of this happened, he was a going, going, going kid. Always on the move. He wants to go; he tries to spend all his time outside of his room in the hospital.”
With little to occupy such an active child whose mobility has been limited, Ward and her family set out to find a way to keep Ryland busy while at the same time keeping his spirits high.
“He likes getting cards,” Ward said.
So she appealed to her friends on Facebook, asking that they write to him to let him know he’s in their thoughts.
“It just went crazy,” she said. ”Christmas cards, get well cards, writing letters; he’s just been having so much fun with them. It gives him something to do every day in the hospital.”
It’s become the focus of his Christmas list, which also includes a go-kart.
“I told him to ask for a dollar in each of his cards,” she said. “It’s not about getting the go-kart; it’s about the card. If it was about the go-kart me and my husband would go buy it for him, but I want him and his dad to go and be able to pick it out together. He’s working at something, to get better for this — it’s something to look forward to.”
Hundreds of letters and cards have flooded in from schools, families, college students and police departments from across the country.
“Sutherland Springs said they’ve never had this much mail before,” Ward laughed. “We’re getting just tubs of these cards. It’s just so neat. I wish I could say thank you to every person who sent us [something]. I wish I could give everybody a hug.”
The cards have also provided comfort to Ryland’s father, Chris Ward.
“My son Chris, he loves reading them,” she said. “He’s having a rough time.”
The Texas father is now balancing obligations to be there for his son, whose hospital is more than an hour away from home, and his 9-year-old stepdaughter Rihanna.
“She’s with her aunt right now and has been moved to a different school. She’s having a rough time of it,” Ward said. “She’s 9 — he’s raised her since she was a baby. To her, she’s lost her whole family.”
Ward asked that people consider writing to her as well.
“She’s lost her mom and sisters,” Ward said, growing quiet. “Everybody has looked forward to the cards. It’s uplifting for the whole family.”
The family is waiting until Ryland is better before talking with him about what happened.
“The only thing he’s talked about is ‘the bad man with the gun’ he had to hide from,” Ward said. “He asked for JoAnne a lot at first, he would wake up and say, ‘Dad, we gotta hide, we gotta hide.’ Right now, we’re just trying to keep his mind off what happened. We just want to keep him upbeat. The cards are helping.”
To send a card to Ryland, cards and letters can be addressed to: Ryland Ward, P.O. Box 174, Sutherland Springs, Texas, 78161.