DETROIT – It’s a saying used too often: “Wrong place, wrong time.”
It’s the only way to describe what happened to Damarian Johnson.
In June of 2019, Johnson and his family were getting pizza and stopped at a gas station at 7 Mile and Telegraph roads in Detroit.
Johnson, who was 13 years old at the time, ran in to get a drink while his mom stayed in the car with his younger siblings. While he was inside, a gunman came in and fired several shots at random.
Johnson was shot in the head and has since had five surgeries on his brain. He went from being a normal kid teen; loving football, doing well in school, popular with his friends, a good son and a loving brother (to two siblings ages 7 years old and 10 months old), to a tragic victim of a random act of violence.
His mother, Diane Brathwaite, said Johnson improves every day. She’s impressed with this strength and how well he’s doing, but the progression is slow. He’s non-verbal and in a wheelchair. He has terrible leg and muscle spasms. When they occur, his legs raise up and if they don’t have room to, it’s painful.
At this stage, doctors’ appointments and physical therapy is crucial to his healing, but there’s a major problem. Brathwaite has found medical transportation companies to be unreliable. She says they’ve missed many appointments or have been stranded from time to time.
Frustrated, she called Local 4. One of our assignment desk editors had been in contact with her since the shooting. She had talked with Brathwaite quite a bit and when she listened to her transportation problems, she sent our Help Me Hank team an email. We jumped right on it. We did the research, reaching out to nonprofits and organizations that we thought could help.
The first company to call us back was Freedom Motors USA.
Right away, Freedom Motors USA jumped into action. It’s has been in business for more than 30 years with the goal to do just this, change someone’s life. It supplies companies and individuals with vehicles that can help them get from place to place. The manufacturer even specializes in making wheelchair accessible vehicles and customizing vehicles that can meet anyone’s specific needs.
Sales Manager Justin Lerette said, “The name Freedom Motors USA means more than a company name. It’s really giving the customers and clients back their freedom to go and do the things they love.”
He told Hank Winchester, “When we see a story that’s so devastating and also inspiring at the same time, we can step in and really change this person’s life, we’re going to step in and make it happen!”
They outfitted a van specifically for Johnson and Brathwaite .
When Local 4 showed Brathwaite her new van, thanks to Freedom Motors USA, she was overwhelmed. She said many times, “I just don’t know what to say.”
Local 4 couldn’t have been more thrilled to provide Brathwaite with the tool she needed to help Johnson get back on the road to recovery.
We also want to give a big shoutout to our meteorologist, Paul Gross and the organization he’s a part of, Detroit’s Goodfellows. When we told them about the story we were doing, the organization was eager to add some cheer into the family’s lives.
They donated gift boxes full of clothing, toys and books to all three children. A big thank you to them for adding more spirit to our rescue.
The best part of this rescue though is that Brathwaite’s family of five (grandma, too) can now take trips and go on outings together like they used to, something they haven’t been able to do since June 2019.
A GoFundMe was set up to help assist the family with medical bills when the shooting happened. If you’d still like to donate, we’ve attached it here.