A North Carolina Baptist church’s ministry to Syrian refugees took a frightening turn Feb. 14 when a 19-month-old son in one of two families sponsored by the congregation suffered critical injuries in an attack by two pit bulls.
The toddler, one of five children in the first of two Syrian refugee families being sponsored by College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, N.C., underwent surgery at Baptist Children’s Hospital for wounds to his ear, face, arm and leg, and his condition was upgraded from critical to serious.
“It’s just a horror,” Pastor Michael Usey described the situation to the Greensboro News & Record. “They survived bombing and wars, and they came over here to have this happen.”
A GoFundMe page to help with the child’s medical expenses was almost halfway toward a $50,000 goal as of Thursday morning. The amount was originally set at $10,000, but after learning the boy will need multiple surgeries in the future it became clear that wouldn’t be enough money.
“This family has been through so many horrors and their needs just exponentially escalated,” says the GoFundMe page started by volunteer Laura Tastad. Aside from a fee charged by GoFundMe, she said 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the family.
The church affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Alliance of Baptists sent volunteers to move the family into a new apartment while the parents sat by their child at the hospital so they will not have to return to where the attack occurred.
Church members interviewed by local media said the move was already in the works, and the day before the family was upbeat about the prospects of living closer to shopping and public transportation in a neighborhood where other refugee families already reside.
Details of the attack, which reportedly occurred in the toddler’s back yard, are sketchy. The dogs belonged to a neighbor. Police shot and killed one animal at the scene. The other ran away but was later captured and euthanized. Authorities said no charges are being filed against the dog owners, because the animals didn’t have a history of aggressive behavior.
The injured child is the youngest of five boys, ages 19 months to 11 years old. The family came to Greensboro last summer and was taken in by College Park Baptist Church in December.
For a while the family maintained a stable life in Syria despite the country’s civil war begun in 2011, until twice bombs went off near them, one of the attacks injuring the father and oldest son. They went to Jordan, where they lived for four years before they were approved to come to the United States.
The North Carolina African Services Coalition, a resettlement agency, brought the family to North Carolina and put them in touch with College Park Baptist Church. A second family sponsored by the congregation arrived in January.
The family speaks very little English, so all communication with police and hospital caregivers is through a translator. Alice Stewart, a member of College Park Baptist Church who communicates with the mother electronically using Google translator, told local media the mother was preparing to take some of the younger children to school for English class when the attack occurred.
Stewart said the injured child’s mother calls him “little monkey” because he climbs on everything.
“He’s a little rascal,” Stewart told News & Record reporter Sarah Newell Williamson. “He’s just the cutest thing. He’s very active, bouncing off the walls, has a sunny smile. He’s a child that’s full of light.”