MANATEE -- A gun rights activist group has ensured Davien Martinez, a 5-year-old gunshot victim, not only met the $11,000 needed for his service dog, but exceeded it.
"I feel really blessed," said Diana Lopez, the Bradenton boy's mother. "You never expect to get so much support from people you don't even know."
Davien was shot in the head July 27, 2013, while lying in bed with his mother. He escaped death but suffered damage to his brain. The drive-by shooting near his home left the then-4-year-old blind in one eye. His mother said he now has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an impulse disorder, ADHD and anxiety as a result of the shooting.
To help with those issues, Lopez wanted to get her son a service dog she hopes will be therapeutic. But such a dog costs about $11,000 and Lopez can't afford that on her own.
The Tampa Bay Gun Runners decided to officially take up Davien's cause last week. Thomas Ouelette, co-founder of the group with Scott Baldwin, said the casual gun group turned community activists wanted to show Davien and the public that not all gun owners are bad.
"It's a 5-year-old that had a life-changing event and was shot because of people that do not represent the gun community," Ouelette said. "We don't want him to have that negative outlook on gun owners. We want him to see our community, to see the positive side."
Since the gun runners took up the cause, the donations on Davien's Go Fund Me page exploded from $60 to $9,200 as of 5 p.m. Tuesday. Ouelette said the group has an additional $5,000 to donate that is not yet in the account, bringing the total to $14,200.
Lopez said she and Davien will go pick out a service dog on Saturday, which will be a German shepherd. They'll start training with the dog at two hours twice a week for a few weeks, before they can start house training.
The Gun Runners hosted a barbecue last weekend in Tampa, serving food for members and hosting several fund-raising events for Davien. Ouelette said they raised $3,000 just from the barbecue, which he said 300 to 400 people attended.
Several people sold their guns and donated about $500 apiece for Davien.
"There was a 7- or 8-year-old who sold his own rifle," Ouelette said. "He'd go out hunting with his dad, so he had his own rifle. But he wanted to make sure Davien got his dog."
The five administrators of the gun runners -- Ouelette, Baldwin, Rich Porupski, Brian Doughty and Shaun Carpenter -- also auctioned off cakes that people could then hit them with.
"We raised $500 just letting people smash cakes in our faces," he said.
Lopez and Davien stopped by the barbecue for a while to meet their supporters.
"It was a little overwhelming, in a good way," Lopez said.
The Gun Runners brought out a German shepherd puppy in training to be a service dog so Davien could see what a service dog would be like.
"He was scared of the dog at first," Lopez said. "But by the time we left, he had warmed up to it. He was squirting water in the dog's mouth, taking pictures of it and hugging it."
Lopez said the additional $3,200 will go towards dog food and veterinary care.
But the Gun Runners covered the medical care, too. One member called the River Landings Animal Clinic in Bradenton, which offered to take care of the service dog's initial needs, provide free yearly exams, which typically cost about $200 per year, and 10 percent off other services the dog may need.
"I've had the account up since August 2013, and last week it only had $60 in it," Lopez said. "I never expected this."