WSVN — A night of celebration turned into a nightmare for a South Florida teen, but then, she says, a miracle happened. In tonight’s Lowedown, a story of forgiveness and moving forward in her remarkable recovery.

Joe’Ara Riley: “My life changed from this party, and I don’t talk about it, but it still affects me. I forgive who did it to me, and I bless his heart, but I pray he doesn’t do it to anyone else, and I hope no one else has to go through what I went through.”

Sixteen-year-old Joe’Ara Riley still feels the pain from the bullet that went through her hip and into her stomach.

Joe’Ara Riley: “I know I’m not supposed to question, but I say, ‘Why did this have to happen to me? I didn’t have to go to this party.'”

It was early April in Southwest Miami-Dade. Joe’Ara went to a sweet 16 birthday party at a banquet hall. A fight broke out outside the party. It was all caught on cellphone video.

Joe’Ara was shot, and as she laid on the ground, she says an angel spoke to her. A voice in her head telling her to relax.

Joe’Ara Riley: “I know the whole time I had an angel by my side. This is what I was hearing.”

Rosh Lowe: “An angel?”

Joe’Ara Riley: “Yeah, up until I got into the helicopter.”

Rosh Lowe: “What was the angel saying?”

Joe’Ara Riley: “Just guiding me through it, saying, ‘Calm down.'”

After Joe’Ara was airlifted to the hospital, she was put in intensive care. The bullet lodged in her stomach and her family there by her side praying.

Marriesha McCuller, Joe’Ara’s sister: “It just brings me back to the night she was on the floor. She didn’t deserve this. I told God to protect her while she was in surgery and just let the nurses do what they had to do to bring my sister back to me.”

It has been a long recovery. This video shows Joe’Ara’s first steps after leaving the hospital.

Pastor Robert Brooks, St. Peters Church: “I believe God kept her to be a seed, if you will, to speak and touch other young lives.”

Joe’Ara has been coming to this church, St. Peters Church in Southwest Miami-Dade, just several blocks from the shooting, since she was a baby. She was raised here, and she wanted her first interview to be done in this church because the lessons she learned here, she says, gave her the strength and courage to make it through.

And now, Joe’Ara’s family hopes the person who did this will be caught.

Sherreaka Smith, Joe’Ara’s aunt: “For peace of mind, come forth. Because you didn’t only hurt Joe’Ara; you hurt an entire family. It wasn’t her fault. It’s just teens with guns. Everyone’s trying to prove a point, and it’s not going to get you nowhere but two places: jail or in the grave.”

Each moment is precious. Joe’Ara knows that all too well.

Joe’Ara Riley: “Appreciate it, because one minute you are here and the next minute you might not. Appreciate it. Be thankful for everything.”

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help with these ongoing medical expenses.


If you have any information on Joe’Ara Riley’s shooting, call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS. Remember, you can always remain anonymous, and you may be eligible for a $1,000 reward.

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