May 13, 2005
The 21-year-old missionary knows he should have returned home from Brazil in a body bag. People don’t get shot in the head with a .38-caliber bullet and live to tell about it.
Except Tyler Harding.
The Mesa Mormon kind of smiles when he points to the scar that puckers at the center of his forehead, wraps around the right side of his head and ends above his ear.
"It wasn’t just one miracle, it was many miracles," Harding said of his speedy recovery from an April 9 armed robbery.
The engineering student was 22 months into his mission in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, crossing the street one day with two friends, when a young man chased after them and demanded their valuables.
"We gave him our backpacks but there was nothing in there but papers and books, Scriptures," Harding said. "He got mad. That’s why he shot me — I was the closest person."
The bullet ripped open his skull, lodging about 20 large fragments of bone and bullet in his brain.
The gunman then pistol-whipped his friend before taking off.
Surprisingly, Harding never lost consciousness, never collapsed in a heap to the ground, although he doesn’t remember much after that.
An older woman wrapped a shirt around his bleeding head until the ambulance arrived.
His parents call it a miracle that the region’s traveling neurosurgeon happened to be at the city’s trauma center that day.
"We didn’t know that night if he was dead or alive," said his mother, Susan Harding, as she recalled the phone call. "He woke up the next morning and he could move his arms, legs, talk, see. He had thousands of people praying for him."
His parents flew out days later and stayed at his bedside for the nearly monthlong recovery.
"We went down there in a nightmare, but when my son sat up and said ‘Hi mom and dad, good to see ya,’ it changed to a beautiful experience," his father, Eldon Harding, said.
While there, he got the story on the 18-year-old gunman from two local cops.
The teen had been on the run, suspected of shooting another man dead in a nearby town the day before he shot Harding. The day after he shot Harding, the teen shot a cop that was hunting him undercover.
The cop was recovering in the same hospital, one floor above Harding. Two days later, the cop’s brother and his partner arrested the shooter, who got 15 years in prison. Harding said the life-changing experience has given him a different perspective.
"You want to do everything you can to help other people because people helped you so much," he said. His parents said he is normal as can be, but they still watch for small things, such as changes in his personality, memory loss or seizures. He registered for classes at Arizona State University this week and drove for the first time without incident, he proudly pointed out to his parents. He is waiting patiently for when they will say he’s well enough to get a job. "We just take it one day at a time," his mother warned.