The family of a 12-year-old boy paralyzed by a stray bullet has been given a ray of hope for the future thanks to the generosity of Shaquille O’Neal.
The NBA Hall of Famer and TNT analyst is paying rent for a year and furnishing a wheelchair-accessible home in Atlanta for the family of Isaiah Payton, who was struck in the spine by a bullet while walking out of a high school football game in August.
“It’s sad because her son is paralyzed from the chest down and no mother has to go through that,” O’Neal told NBC affiliate WXIA.
Payton was simply leaving a football game at Lakewood Stadium in Atlanta on Aug. 17 when gunfire erupted. The boy was shot along with Damean Spear, 15, who was hit in the leg and later released from the hospital.
Payton was not the intended target of the gunfire, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields said in a news conference.
“This was a reckless, heartless and cowardly act of violence that forever changed the life of a 12-year-old child and his family, and deeply affected another juvenile,” Shields said at the news conference.
The boy’s mother, Allison Wood, said she hopes that he will one day walk again.
“I believe in miracles, and God — He is a powerful man,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
O’Neal decided to help the family after learning that Payton could not be released from the hospital because his family’s home was not equipped to handle his disability.
O’Neal is a father of five, including a teenage son, UCLA forward Shareef O’Neal, 19, and a teenage daughter, eighth-grade basketball phenom Me’arah O’Neal.
“I was watching the story and it was just sad,” he said. “It could’ve been any one of us. It could’ve been my son … it could’ve been your cousin.”
The former Lakers star reached out to Wood to get the family moved into a home that can accommodate his needs.
“She was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her two boys, so we found her a house in College Park in a nice area,” O’Neal said.
He added that he will be purchasing furniture and televisions for the new home as well as Ring doorbell cameras.
O’Neal has become known for acts of generosity, whether it’s surprising kids at a pick-up basketball game or raising money on TODAY to help Marine Toys for Tots during the holidays.
He isn’t the only one pitching in to help Payton. Papa John’s CEO Rob Lynch and chairman Jeff Smith are also donating to help the family, and the City of Atlanta Fire Department is providing financial assistance.
A 15-year-old boy was arrested Wednesday in connection with the shooting and has been charged with aggravated assault, according to WXIA. Investigators believe he was firing at other targets and hit the two boys.