Lance Haver slept at home Wednesday night for the first time this week. The mayor's consumer advocate, who has long been an outspoken supporter of gun control, has been camping out at Albert Einstein Medical Center, where his son, Daren Dieter, is in the intensive-care unit.

The 24-year-old artist and insurance salesman was shot Saturday night when he and his date were about to drive away after stopping at Shrimpy's Bar in West Oak Lane for something to eat.

Dieter was hit with four bullets, which severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down - unable to move his limbs or breathe. (The woman was shot, too, but went home after being treated for her wounds.)

Haver and his wife, Lisa, a Philadelphia public school teacher, were both out of town, and rushed to the hospital, where their older son, Ramsey, was waiting.

The hospital has been kind, allowing the family to hover, but now that Dieter has stabilized, they are taking a few hours off here and there.

During the three-hour break in visiting hours yesterday, Haver, 52, rode a subway to SEPTA headquarters to give a brief, but passionate, speech about the need for a more modern ticketing system.

In the meantime, he said, "I want to urge you to continue to have the paper transfers." His voice rose in indignation as he spoke of the needs of the "poorest of the poor," then settled like a mourning dove when he quietly thanked the SEPTA board members for their kind words and prayers for his son.

The soft-shouldered Haver pushed back his reading glasses and returned to his seat in the back, splitting his attention between the public transit debate that ensued in the board room and the private tragedy that was unfolding in flashes of text on his BlackBerry.

After the meeting, he declined a television reporter's request for the details of Dieter's shooting.

"He stopped to get a snack and was slaughtered," Haver said, but would go no further.

"I know people want to focus on where, how and why it happened," he said, but to do so creates the illusion that the attack was specific to the place, time and circumstance. "Parents want to believe their children will do something different and, therefore, their children are safe.

"Unfortunately, with the flow of illegal handguns and the cowardly elected officials in Harrisburg who refuse to do anything about it, we live in an armed society in which anyone can be shot at any time."

Police, he said, still have no suspect in the shooting.

Dieter has some of his father's provocative tendencies. At one point, Haver said, Dieter was hand-painting men's dress shirts with portraits of such icons as Che Guevara, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Fidel Castro and putting sayings on the back like, "It takes a great deal of love to be a revolutionary."

For a young man, he has already endured a fair amount of suffering.

Haver and his wife adopted Dieter and his two brothers when they were children. Their biological father and their mother, who is Lisa's sister, both have severe mental illnesses and were unable to care for the boys.

"Daren never really had a childhood," Haver said. "From the time he was 4, he was taking care of his dad. Reminding him to eat."

Daren and Ramsey have always been close and were just about to buy a house in East Oak Lane near their parents.

Although it is far too soon for any long-range planning, Haver says he believes his son has the resilience and courage to reimagine this new, radically amputated life he's been handed.

"If someone could make a joke, after being told he'd be paralyzed forever and would have to always live on a ventilator," Haver said, "then he's got the spirit to suffer through."

The joke is complicated, but worth retelling because it shows that beneath the earthquake rubble of this disaster, his son's lights are still on.

The family has been communicating with Dieter by holding up letters. He blinks at the letter he wants, they write it down, and the words begin to form.

"It's tortuous," Haver said.

On Tuesday, when the doctors said the paralysis appeared irreversible, they advised the family to let Dieter know right away so he would have time to absorb the news.

"They warned us that there would be some denial," Haver said.

After his brother, then his parents, then the doctors were finished talking, Dieter spent an hour spelling out, "Does this mean I'm going to be a genis?"

"He's a bad speller," Haver explained. "He meant genius. We asked him if he meant like Stephen Hawking," the disabled scientist. "He said yes."

The family is now waiting. First, to see how Dieter responds to antibiotics for pneumonia. And second, to hear whether he will be accepted into a rehabilitation facility. At some point, but not for quite a while, they will let him decide whether he wants to take himself off the ventilator.

"While we would do anything to keep him with us, what we couldn't stand is for him to be in insufferable pain. Ultimately," he said, "we can't put ourselves in his place."

Read Daren Dieter's essay, a gift to Lance Haver, at http://go.philly.com/haver

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Contact staff writer Melissa Dribben at 215-854-2590 or mdribben@phillynews.com.