Oronde McClain was 10 years old on that fateful Monday night in April 2000. His mother had sent him to get Chinese take-out near their West Mount Airy home. About 9:10 p.m., on Chew Avenue near Sharpnack Street, he felt a sharp pain in the back of his head. A bullet had pierced his skull.
On patrol nearby, Police Officer Michael Kopecki heard the gunfire and rushed to the scene. He found Oronde lying in a pool of blood on the sidewalk. "He looked to be in extremely bad shape," Kopecki, now a lieutenant in the 14th District, recalled yesterday.
Officers Megan Lynch - fresh out of the Police Academy - and Brian Hilbert soon arrived and rushed the boy to Albert Einstein Medical Center. Police said he had been an innocent victim of a drive-by shooting. The shooter was never caught.
Time and perseverance have enabled Oronde to recover. And last night, he attended his Northeast High School senior prom - joined at his home beforehand by the three cops who helped save his life eight years ago.
"I think this is fabulous, that he's able to recover from such a tragic incident," Kopecki said. "The area has a history of crime problems, so for him to be able to avoid that and becoming an upstanding citizen is great."
Now 18, the strapping 6-foot-2 Oronde was busily preparing for the event yesterday and didn't have much to say, but family members were happy to speak on his behalf.
"My grandson was 10 when he was shot in the head, and now getting ready to graduate from Northeast High," Kenneth Barnhill said. "It was a horrible experience, but he pulled through and is doing quite well.
"My whole spin to him was that God left him here because he has something left to do, and it's up to him to figure out what that is."
The rehabilitation was grueling, said Oronde's mother, Hermine Turner, a nurse.
"He spent four months at the Children's Hospital's Seashore House, had four surgeries, couldn't walk, talk or move the right side of his body at all," she said. "He had to wear a helmet for a year and he walked around with a limp, and he even had to fight kids teasing him. But look at him now."
That bullet is still lodged in Oronde's head, causing occasional seizures, but Turner said her son is well on his way to living a productive adult life.
"He started picking up things by himself, doing work by himself, completing assignments, and then things progressed," she said. "He stopped limping so much, and now he's working." He will attend DeVry University this summer, she said.
City Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller, a friend of the family, said she is proud of Oronde.
"I am amazed at his development," she said.
"He's looking good and healthy. I think he's a terrific role model. He shows and exemplifies the 'I can do it' attitude, setting goals and achieving them."