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'Hasn't broken my son's spirit': Family of teen injured in shooting outside Denver rec. center speaks out

14-year-old was shot in the face, according to his family
RJ Harding
Posted at 10:25 PM, Sep 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-15 16:10:12-04

DENVER — The innocence of after-school fun was lost last week when shots were fired outside the Carla Madison Recreation Center. The family of the teen injured in the shooting has come forward to share their loved one's journey to recovery.

A preliminary investigation revealed the Sept. 7 shooting stemmed from a nearby fight, according to Denver police. A 20-year-old man and an East High School student, who was an innocent bystander, were injured.

Nearly a week later, community members and students gathered outside of East High School for a prayer vigil.

"A bullet has no name. We need to stop the violence and stop the pain," said Alvertis Simmons, who organized the vigil. "The family who has been impacted by this shooting is distraught, hurt and upset."

Family members identified 14-year-old RJ Harding as the injured student. They say RJ was shot in the face.

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RJ Harding seen in a family photo. His mother, Brionna Harding, said her son loves boxing, and spending time with his sisters.

"No matter how hard you try to project your kids, you never know what's going to happen," said Brionna Harding, RJ's mother. "I can say I'm very hurt."

Harding said her son had just grabbed some snacks from the 7-Eleven gas station while waiting for her to pick him up. She said her son was walking outside the recreation center with his girlfriend when he was caught in the crossfire.

RJ has already had two surgeries to remove the bullets and its fragments, his mother said. He has another surgery scheduled for next week to reconstruct his jaw.

"I'm happy that this hasn't broken my son's spirit. He's a boxer, and he still wants to box. He still wants to come to this same school," Harding said.

Shortly after the shooting, Denver7 spoke to witnesses who rushed to the teen's aid.

"We saw a boy fall to his knees, and the whole staff, including our clients and everything, ran out there to assist the juvenile," Shellie Martinez said at the time. "I actually was the one holding [the teen]. I took his shirt off of him and held pressure on his face until the ambulance got there. There was a client of ours who was actually a doctor that was there with me, so we were attending to him."

On Thursday, Martinez and RJ's family were able to meet for the very first time.

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Shellie Martinez embraces RJ Harding's loved ones. Last week, East High freshman, RJ, was injured in a shooting outside the Carla Madison Recreation Center. Denver Police say RJ is an innocent bystander. Martinez told Denver7 she witnessed the gunfire and then rushed to help the teen.

"I'm very thankful for Mrs. Martinez for reacting as fast as she did," Harding said. "I'm forever grateful for her."

RJ wrote a thank you note for Martinez which said, "Dear Mrs. Martinez, thank you so much for saving my life, I appreciate you. I want to pay you back in every way I can. You did so much for me, I'm so grateful you were there. You're my guardian angel. God bless you."

Martinez's eyes welled with tears after she read the note aloud.

"I'm glad I was able to be there for him." she said.

Letter from RJ Harding to Shellie Martinez
Martinez, a good Samaritan during last week's shooting, reads a letter thanking her.