ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — At a Sunday fundraiser for Aurora shooting survivor Yousef Gharbi, who was among the most critically wounded in the July 20 tragedy after he was shot with a bullet that entered his brain -- a bullet that may have to remain in his head for the rest of his life -- perhaps the last person anyone expected to see was Gharbi himself.
One month ago today, the 16-year-old was put on life support after attending the premiere of "The Dark Knight Rises," a night that ended up claiming the lives of 12, wounding 58, and haunting the nation as one of the worst mass shootings in recent history.
Gharbi, after telling his friend to get down in an effort to escape the sudden gunfire, was hit in the right side of his brain and had to be hooked up to a breathing tube for more than one week after the shooting at the University of Colorado Hospital.
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"It's life threatening if they take the bullet out," Gharbi's sister Katlyn told 9News one week after the shooting. "They have seen many, many people get hit and live with a bullet in their brain. That gives us hope."
Well-wishers Carolina Vega-Neff and her daughter Elise, who have put together a Homecoming-themed fashion show for the past two years, met Gharbi for the first time while he was in the hospital and decided to turn this year's into a benefit for him.
"We wanted this to be about the kids making a difference. We didn't want this to be like we're getting media attention. We want to teach our kids to have a balance with their faith, and their sports and give back. So we wanted to give back," Vega-Neff told The Huffington Post.
Kids from 4-5 neighboring high schools modeled sparkling homecoming suits and dresses while handfuls of students in the crowd wore T-shirts that said "Team Yousef" in the front, and "#PrayForYousef" on the back.
Gharbi had to undergo a cranioplasty as recently as July 31st to relieve pressure on his skull, but was released from the hospital after doctors informed his mother Amee that he was healing much better than expected.
Just days after the surgery, Gharbi received another visit--this time from over 10 officers from the Aurora Police Department.
We did get to meet the 2 officers that saved his life. One of them is British, I believe, and I instantly picked him out. He was looking at my son with shock in his face. I almost thought he would start crying. When Yousef asked which of them was responsible for saving and driving him to the hospital the policeman was unable to answer but immediately pointed out by the others. He soon came around, because of Yousef's goofy comments, and joined in the joking and laughing.
Though Gharbi may have to carry the bullet, along with small pieces of shrapnel that have lodged themselves in his neck near his caratoid artery for the rest of his life, his mother says an angiogram determined that they're no longer going to jeopardize his health.
Just before the show started at the Inverness Hotel in Englewood on Sunday, Gharbi quietly walked into the room with his mother, little brother, a former babysitter and his best friend's mother, to sit in front.
After the show, Vega-Neff informed the room that Gharbi "didn't want to miss the show" and was in the room to the response of sudden claps and a standing ovation.
Gharbi asked not to be interviewed for this article, but did pose for pictures alongside his family, smiling widely and letting friends know that he's happy to be home.
To help Yousef Gharbi, you can send donations to 1st Bank of Colorado under the "Yousef Gharbi Fund."