McALLEN, Texas — A 13-year-old, one of two Texas boys shot while trying out for their middle school basketball team on an outdoor court, is unable to move his legs, his doctor said Friday.
Nicholas Tijerina, a student in the seventh grade at Harwell Middle School northeast of Edinburg, has been stable and talking, but it's too soon to know the lasting effects of Monday's shooting, said Dr. Mark Lieser, a trauma surgeon at McAllen Medical Center.
"He has been awake and alert and stable the entire time and that bleeding at this time appears to have stopped," Lieser said. "He's in remarkably good spirits and he's having an ice cream sundae for breakfast this morning."
Nicholas and a 14-year-old boy who has not been identified were in a parking lot that had been converted into a temporary basketball court behind the school when they were shot about 4:45 p.m. Monday. About 50 children were trying out for the school's team. The other boy is reportedly in stable condition at another hospital.
The bullet entered the lower portion of Nicholas' chest under his right arm damaging the lower portion of his lung, went through the right half of his liver and through one of the bones of his spine before lodging in the soft tissue of his back, Lieser said. "It was probably a pretty high-velocity round, which even if it didn't go right through the spinal cord went right next to it, and it's just the energy from that bullet is going to cause some damage to the spinal cord," he said.
Investigators have questioned three men who were found on adjacent ranchland after the shooting Monday evening. Two were practicing target shooting about a half mile from the school. A third was an illegal immigrant with an assault rifle who was trespassing on the property. The target shooters were released, but are still under investigation. The other man, charged with misdemeanor trespass and poaching, remained in custody. Investigators didn't know if any of them fired the shots, but hoped to have ballistic test results next week.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Trevino said Wednesday that investigators were leaning toward it being a target shooting incident rather than a hunting incident.
With no Texas law prohibiting hunting on private land near a school and high-powered rifles that can fire more than a mile, school officials have said the most immediate way to protect students might be building a cinder-block wall around two sides of the school to protect it from flying bullets.
Donna Tijerina, Nicholas' mother, said she had spoken with the school district's superintendent but hadn't had the energy to be angry.
"The only thing I want is for him to get better, just walk out of here the fantastic kid that I know he is," she said at a news conference with his doctors Friday.
Nicholas is an active kid who plays football, basketball and baseball. His football teammates signed a ball and gave it to him and his basketball coach told him he'd be an honorary member of the team and get his own jersey, his mother said.
She credited his basketball coach and the school nurse for their quick response that likely saved his life.
"When he was in the ER room he said, 'Mom, I know I'm hurt. How long am I going to be here? When do I get to go back to school?' And when his coach came he said, 'Am I still going to get credit for being on the basketball team?'" Donna Tijerina said. She said he's worried about falling behind in school. "His concern is he's 13 and he has so many friends and he's so active that he just wants to get back to school and be a normal kid again."
His coach called Donna Tijerina five minutes after he went down and initially told her he was complaining of abdominal pain and couldn't get up. But a few minutes later, when she was on her way to the school, he called back to tell her Nicholas had been shot and was on his way to the hospital. She said the shots were audible and Nicholas remembered seeing the other boy who was hit.