A family affected by a drive-by shooting describes how the experience affects their lives long after the initial bullet wounds heal.
NEW ORLEANS -- It was a shooting that grabbed the headlines on TV newscasts and in newspapers. In August 2014, there was a breaking news flash that two were dead and five wounded in a drive-by shooting in the Lower 9th Ward.
Later, more breaking news came as the NOPD caught five suspects. Then over the years, the suspects wound their way through the criminal justice system and courts. Afterwards, the headlines stopped.
Behind the breaking news banners of the past are lives forever changed. There's a first grader who now has to feel the furniture and walls to get to his room.
"I was wondering why I couldn't see anything when I first woke up," said Kyle Romain, remembering his time in the hospital after the gunfire hit him.
When it happened, Kyle had just started kindergarten and was just playing on the front porch with his siblings after school. His mom stepped out to ask what they wanted for dinner. That's the last image he would ever see.
"I birthed five healthy kids and for you to take that from me, take my son's eyesight, take my other son and had a piece of skull missing, I don't feel like it's fair, you know. It's not God's creation. It's man, so it hurts me to my heart every day," said Alanna Romain.
Kyle is just one face behind the 'five wounded' headline. The barrage of bullets, intended for someone else, took his sight. Because they were destroyed, doctors had to remove his eyeballs.
"I asked them what blind was. I was afraid, like what if I couldn't walk around and I couldn't even know which I do, or where should I go," Kyle said.
Also playing on the front porch was Kyle's little half brother, Jamal. He was shot in the head.
"They shot my brain when I was two," Jamal Riley, 4, said.
Jamal has had multiple surgeries. A piece of his skull was removed. A metal plate now replaces the hole that was left. He has moved to Texas to be with his father. That arrangement helps give the boys the extra attention they need, by dividing up the care. He misses his brothers and sisters. His dad quietly sheds tears about Jamal's memory being terribly off, how he cries a lot and doesn't use his right arm and leg well.
"It's senseless. It's just kind of like, it makes no sense. You've altered an entire family just period. For what? Like these kids will never, ever, ever be the same," said a sorrowful John Riley Jr., who is Jamal's dad.
Their teen sister has permanent knee damage from a bullet and can't do the extracurricular activities and athletics she used to. She now has to use crutches when her knee swells up.
Alanna is struggling, physically with pain from multiple gun shots to the abdomen and leg, emotionally from the stress and financially. Without the stamina to work her certified nurse assistant job and restaurant jobs, she fears not having money for rent.
"I've been working since I left my parent's house at 17, always taking care of my kids. Single mother. No child support. No Section 8. No welfare. It's always been me working, taking care of mine," said Alanna.
The family had to leave their 9th Ward home. Alanna said she's never received any victim's assistance money and only Kyle gets disability. Her dad and stepmother now are helping as caretakers. Her mother, Barbara, was helping, but during all this stress suffered a stroke and stopped talking.
"I'm taking care of her too on top of everything that's on my plate. It's really a lot," said Alanna, trembling.
"Emotionally, it's been just really, really devastating and it continues to be a strain because it's like, this doesn't go away. This continues, as they grow they ask questions," said Pamela Hill-Romain, Alanna's stepmother.
Kyle loves to read and is already on his way to being proficient in Braille.
Through all this hardship, it's the strength and resilience seen through his heart, that keeps Alanna going.
"In the beginning, all I did was cry every time I saw him because I'm not used to seeing him with no eyes, you know," Alanna said. "He got me to the point where he started asking me, 'Mama, what are you crying for? He's like, 'If I ain't crying, you don't need to be crying.'"
When Jamal comes to visit Kyle they love to play. Even though the shooting caused the boys to live apart, they have an unbreakable bond. In the hospital, they reached over and held hands, and at first, only talked to each other. Kyle taught himself to do many things on his own and doesn't understand why he can't play football with the big boys. He craves just to be normal.
"I just don't like when people ask me about my eyes and ask me, 'Can you, can't see?' Because, it kind of makes me, like, mad because sometimes I don't like people asking me that," Kyle stressed.
When Kyle and Jamal went to one of the accused's trials, there wasn't a dry eye on the jury. Their mother had a message when it comes to settling disputes with violence.
"People need to learn to take responsibility for their actions," she said. "Think before you do. And I don't feel like taking someone's life is the answer to nothing."
But Kyle's message is to people who see him as disabled.
"Because even though I can't see, doesn't mean I can't read or write or walk around or go to the bathroom or go to my room," Kyle said.
Now, adding to the stress, the family's home is damaged by last month's tornado.
You can help by donating to the 'Kyle and Alanna Romain' account at any Whitney Bank or by clicking HERE.
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