Gang violence victim, Wilson Batista Jr. at his home in...

Gang violence victim, Wilson Batista Jr. at his home in Brentwood. The 13 year-old was shot in the head while playing basketball at Timberline park in Brentwood. (April 7, 2010) Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

Wilson Batista Jr. still fights to hold on to his childhood. He wants to go back to Timberline Park, to meet friends, to play basketball. But he can't just now.

"Would you want to go back there?" the 14-year-old asks about the Brentwood playground where he was nearly killed 10 months ago. A gunman's bullet pierced his eye while he was playing basketball with friends.

Wilson has become a symbol of the senseless violent crime that has spiked in Brentwood and Central Islip in the past year. Fueled in part by gang activity that has plagued the area and others on Long Island in recent years, Brentwood has become the center of an aggressive law enforcement and county response since neighborhood residents began complaining about the fears they are living with daily.

"It's [the gangs] against the public," said Wilson Jr., whom police say was shot when someone mistook him for a rival gang member. An 18-year-old was charged in the case.

The road back

Wilson Jr. knows he is lucky to be alive. After the shooting on June 15, he spent five months in the hospital. "They only gave me a 10 percent chance of life. You do the math," he said. "Hit the bull's-eye from a mile away."

Doctors told the Batistas that even if Wilson lived, he might never fully recover.

"No talking, no walking, couldn't guarantee the eye - nothing," Wilson Batista Sr. said. "Now look at him."

For 40 long nights, the Batistas paced the halls of Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park as their son clung to life in the intensive care unit.

"How much he's recovered I can't really put in words," the boy's mother, Ramona, said.

Still, his injuries have been severe. Wilson lost an eye, and has poor vision in the other. He lost some cognition, and has limited use of his left arm.

He relies on a cane to help him slowly move through his parents' modest three-bedroom home near Timberline Park. Wilson attends three physical therapy sessions a week.

One session treats his 20/400 vision in his left eye. "He can't see much. He can't read," Wilson Sr. said. He's still not back in school.

Another therapy session treats his walking ability. After spending months in a hospital bed and months in a wheelchair, Wilson still doesn't have full strength in his legs.

The third therapy session concentrates on his speech. When the bullet became lodged in Wilson's brain, it severely disrupted his cognition, his family said. But therapy is helping. "I want [him] to have physical therapy every day," Wilson Sr. said. "The money isn't there."

Bills add up

Following Wilson's shooting, Ramona quit her job at a factory, and his father cut back his schedule as a custodian at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore.

The Batista family received monetary aid from Suffolk Legis. Ricardo Montano's office, along with private donations totaling about $12,500.

"He's come a long way and the family is strong and resilient," Montano said.

The biggest help came from the Long Island Housing Services, Wilson Sr. said. Lisa Purzak, a housing counselor, helped the Batistas work with the bank to lower their monthly mortgage from $1,800 down to just above $900.

"What saved the house was Bank of America reducing the rate," Purzak said. "Not every story is a success story."

Ramona is home more, cooking dinner for the family, and Wilson Sr. often takes his son for drives around the neighborhood and to the mall.

"I'll take care of them when I grow up," Wilson Jr. said.

Wilson's expression brightens when he talks of his family, and all they've done to support him - including giving him gifts.

But he doesn't hesitate when asked what was the best gift he received. In a powerful and steady voice, Wilson says:

"My life back."

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