Just over two months later Iran Brown has more than survived. Amazingly enough, the youngster, whose identity is now being disclosed for the first time, is up and around—and playing basketball. During an exclusive visit from a PEOPLE reporter, Iran is out in the backyard with his uncle Jerome and his cousins, even dunking on the hoop. Asked about his wounds, he matter-of-factly hikes up his shirt to display the long pink lines that crisscross the front of his torso. Though the scars—to say nothing of the fear that gripped the Washington area during the snipers' rampage—are still fresh, Iran would prefer to talk about his strong faith and the lessons he learned during his ordeal, which he summarizes as, "Be strong, stay healthy and never give up."
In truth, though, Iran also owes his life in no small measure to the quick thinking of his aunt Tanya Brown, 38, who had just dropped him off around 8:30 a.m. that Monday at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, Md. For the past year Iran had been living with his aunt and her husband, Jerome, at their comfortable home in Bowie because his mother, Lisa, 36, a clerk at the IRS who lives in nearby Lanham, Md., wanted to keep him safe from the bad elements at his old apartment complex. Now as Tanya started to pull away she heard a single shot and the voice of her nephew calling out to her. "He could feel the bullet penetrating," says Lisa. "It was hot and painful." Iran somehow managed to stagger back to the vehicle, where Tanya immediately dialed 911.
The emergency dispatcher told her to wait there for help. But Tanya, a registered nurse who happens to work at Children's Hospital, knew that Bowie Health Center was only a mile and a half away. She buckled a seat belt on the blood-soaked Iran and roared out of the parking lot. "He looked at me and told me he loved me," says Tanya. "When you see that on television, it's usually someone's last words. I was afraid I would lose him. I told him everything would be okay and I drove as fast as I could." At the Bowie clinic, doctors bundled Iran into a helicopter for the seven-minute ride to Children's Hospital. "I didn't think he was really aware of his surroundings," says Tanya. "But he did remember from the time he was shot to the time they started cutting his clothes off."
There he was rushed into a trauma room—complete with an angel of gold-and-white felt suspended from the ceiling for good luck. Iran needed every bit of help he could get. He had already been intubated, but it wasn't enough. "He was on the way down at a fairly rapid rate," says Eichelberger, the director of trauma services at the hospital. Iran's condition was so dire that there was no time even for an X ray to pinpoint the source of the bleeding. Eichelberger and Newman simply plunged in, because, says Eichelberger, "your focus is, 'I've got to put my finger in the dike to stop the flow.' " During the next 2½ hours the doctors repaired a large rip in his stomach, stapled off part of his pancreas, stitched up the shrapnel wounds to his liver—which actually regenerates—and removed the spleen. Miraculously, Iran's heart and main blood vessels had been spared. As the surgeons worked, his blood pressure and heart rate began to rebound. "With those he's signaling us that his capacity to mend and his capacity to survive are there," says Eichelberger.
Not that there weren't more anxious moments. Lisa, who slept on a foldout bed and rarely left his side during his hospitalization, had no assurances from the doctors in the first hours after surgery that her son would pull through. But slowly he rallied. About a week later she recalls leaning over and talking to him. "I would say, 'This is Mommy, this is Mommy, do you hear me?' " she says. "He would nod or squeeze my hand." The one thing Lisa told herself was to hold back her tears because she didn't want to alarm Iran. At one point, though, she said gently to him, "It's Mommy, do you know I love you?" Continues Lisa: "He frowned. Tears were coming out of his eyes and he nodded his head yes—and I just lost it."
Over the next days and weeks Iran's family and the staff at the hospital were to see many other signs of the boy's spirit. From the beginning he never complained about his discomfort or wrung his hands wondering why he had been victimized. "One of the first things he said," Lisa recalls, "was that he was worried about other kids in the world." He had a morphine pump, but he rarely used it. "He's a positive kid," says Eichelberger. "He never looked back. That mental attitude of 'I can do this' really makes a difference."
After five weeks in the hospital Iran was at last able to go home to Tanya and Jerome's place, where he has mostly hung out with his sisters Donielle, 19, and Domonique, 15, and cousins Jerome II, 9, and Justin, 6. He had feared at first that the snipers had targeted him specifically. Even today, he has occasional nightmares and continues to get counseling for the trauma. Thanks to the generosity of her coworkers at the IRS, who donated their own leave time, Lisa now has a year off to spend with Iran as he recuperates. (She declines to talk about Iran's father, who has long been absent from his life.) Among the well-wishers to visit was Montgomery County Police Chief Charles Moose, who admits to being stunned by how swiftly Iran had recovered. "This kid just bounds up off the sofa," says Moose, recalling the meeting. "I was ecstatic."
Iran is eager to go back to school. When not shooting hoops or listening to music—Christian pop is a favorite—he has been catching up on his homework. He has done so well that he made honor roll for the most recent grading period. Already he and the family are bracing for the hoopla that will undoubtedly engulf him when he returns to school in January. "Some of the girls have started a fan club," says Lisa, laughing. "I'm, like, am I going to have to deal with this now?"
Iran is relieved that the accused snipers, John Muhammad, 41, and Lee Boyd Malvo, 17, who are facing multiple counts of murder in as many as six states and the District of Columbia, are behind bars. But for the time being, his big goal is to get back in shape to make the basketball team next year. His uncle, for one, is sure that he will make it. "He will be ready," says Jerome, "without a doubt." He has beaten longer odds before.
Linda Kramer in Bowie