NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Family, friends and coworkers of a gunshot victim turned paraplegic gathered Saturday (June 29) to help raise money for his medical costs.
As someone who was always generous with his time and resources, those closest to Austin Boykins said giving back was a no-brainer. Aprial Bossette, Boykins’ sister, said the 22-year-old never once stopped to feel sorry for himself, even when he awoke to numbness in more than half of his body.
And while his injuries were confined to his lower body, Boykins said his mind felt numb, too.
“I didn’t really react the way a normal person what would. I didn’t cry, I didn’t yell. I didn’t say ‘woe is me,'" Boykins said.
But most would agree -- he had every reason to.
It was nearing 10 p.m. in late April, when Boykins set off to work, heading to the bus stop at Read and Curran boulevards.
“All of a sudden, out of nowhere, these two guys just came up. One of them had a gun. The other one just goes right behind me and took my book sack. He said, 'don’t move or I’ll shoot. So, I didn’t move,” Boykins recalled.
But when the armed robbery started to draw attention, Boykins called for help.
“He knocked me to the ground and the one with the gun shot me right here,” Boykins said, pointing to his chest. “He missed my heart and bruised my lung, but it still hit my spine.”
At first, Bossette said she couldn’t believe someone had done this to her brother.
“I was in disbelief. I was in shock,” she said.
Boykins’ family and friends rushed to his side. Known to others as kind and generous, many struggled to understand why this happened. But not Boykins.
“I accepted it because it’s not stopping me from being who I am but, the fact of the matter is this kind of stuff happens in New Orleans all the time,” he said. "Fortunately, I’m alive. I’m glad I got away with just being paralyzed."
Now, almost three months later, Boykins is undergoing spinal therapy and learning how to take care of himself.
“Going for a walk, or maybe brushing my teeth, or getting myself ready for anything, really,” he said.
For his family, they’re still getting used to the adjustments, but Brossette said it’s well worth it to have Boykins alive and still smiling.
“It’s kind of strange, at times, because we forget we can’t take the stairs, or we’re gonna have to carry a wheelchair. So, when we go places, we don’t think to ask, ‘Is it wheelchair accessible?’” Brossette described. We just have to really do research now before we go places, before we do things, before we plan anything, so it just takes some, a little bit of tweaking to get used to it."
Though Boykins has accepted the fact that he’ll have to go on disability for a little while, he said he refuses to let this keep him down.
“I can get back on my feet,” Boykins said.
Rosie Cann, a former coworker, said she was ecstatic to see her friend was still himself, even after all the pain and tragedy he’d been handed.
“It’s still the same 'ole Austin, which I don’t think many people would be able to keep that sort of positivity in that situation,” Cann said. “He’s everything we all should be.”
And his loved ones said they couldn’t ask for more.
“I’m still coming here, saying hi to my friends, I’m still trying to see if I can find some form of work,” Boykins said.
But his fight is not over yet, as Boykins faces the prospect of another surgery.
“[The bullet is] still next to my spine. It’s still in there,” he said.
Boykins said it all depends on how rehab goes but, regardless of what the future holds, he said he’ll face it head on.
“It’s been a real roller coaster of emotions but I’m still going one step at a time,” he said.
Didi Miles was among those who came together Saturday to raise money with Boykins’ unexpected medical costs.
“The story touched a lot of people who don’t know him, and so they’re chipping in here and there, doing whatever they can,” Miles said.
While Boykins’ said what happened to him is a risk he took by living in New Orleans, Cann said it’s that same community that’s joining hands in the face of his tragedy.
“Part of what makes the city so wonderful is that people always come together and help and support each other, and Austin kind of exemplifies that every day,” she said.
There’s no knowing yet whether or not Boykins will undergo the next surgery, as doctors aren’t have not determined if removing the bullet would help him or harm him.
If you’d like to donate to his medical expenses, Boykins’ family is raising money here: gofundme.com/f/benefit-for-austin-boykins/.