In August, 12-year-old Isaiah Payton fell victim to a senseless act of violence. But while a stray bullet has changed his life forever, aid has come from an unlikely source: former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal.
WXIA-TV reports that Isaiah sustained his injuries while he and a classmate, Damean Spear, were leaving a high school football game in Atlanta. While walking home, shots rang out and both were struck by bullets. Damean was released from the hospital shortly after suffering a bullet wound in his leg, but sadly, Isaiah wasn’t as lucky. He was hit in the spine and because he’s now paralyzed from the chest down, long-term disability care is required as a result.
“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,” Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields told WXIA-TV.
And while struggling to acclimate to their new status quo, Isaiah and his family suffered another disheartening blow: He couldn’t be released from the hospital because the family’s one-bedroom apartment wasn’t properly equipped to tend to his disabilities.
Thankfully, as this story began to circulate in the local Atlanta news, O’Neal caught wind of the ordeal and stepped in to ease the family’s burden.
“We found her a house. I’m going to pay her rent for the year and I’m going to give her some furniture and it’s sad because her son is paralyzed from the chest down and no mother should have to go [through] that,” O’Neal said.
But the four-time NBA champion isn’t the family’s only guardian angel. Papa John’s CEO Rob Lynch and Papa John’s chairman of the board Jeff Smith will also contribute to the cause, in addition to the City of Atlanta Fire Department, who will provide the family with a budget for the year. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is also lending her support.
“I was watching the story and it’s just sad. It could have been any one of us,” O’Neal said. “We’re going to [...] help her get on her feet.”
On Wednesday, Atlanta police arrested a 15-year-old boy in connection with the shooting. He’s being charged with aggravated assault.