A thumbs-up and a high-five from Nolan Brandy are small gestures that hold so much meaning for the parents of the 9-year-old boy shot this week at his Southern California elementary school.
After a painful and difficult week, Rachel and Leon Brandy said their only son — the youngest of their three children — is doing better than expected but still not talking about the shooting that killed his teacher, 53-year-old Karen Smith, and his classmate and friend, Jonathan Martinez, at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino.
"He just kind of ignored questions about what happened," Leon Brandy told NBC4. "I don't think it's sunk in yet."
Nolan suffered a gunshot wound to the upper body that left him with a broken rib and injuries to his abdomen, liver and kidney.
He left the hospital Friday and is home recovering. Doctors said he could be ready to return to school later this month.
His mother Rachel, a parent volunteer at the school, said she was friends with Smith and Martinez. She's still struggling with her emotions surrounding their death and her relief at her son's recovery.
Rachel vividly recalls the terror and anxiety she and other parents felt waiting for news of their children: "I'm in the gym with all the other parents and they call his name and I thought, 'OK, my son is right outside the gym doors, we're going to be reunited and go home.' And that's when they said it to me, 'Your son's been shot we're going to Loma Linda.'"
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The Brandys said they are grateful for all the support and well wishes they have received from around the world. Rachel hopes time and prayers will help with emotional healing.
"All those parents out there, we can do this," she said. "North Park is strong and we will continue to be strong."
Nolan added a "thank you" of his own.