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Aurora teen shot six years ago an inspiration to those around him

RitTre Winfrey talk their Aurorhome Thursday May 9 2013 about life since 2007 shooting thleft Tre paralyzed from neck down.

Rita and Tre Winfrey talk in their Aurora home on Thursday, May 9, 2013, about life since the 2007 shooting that left Tre paralyzed from the neck down. Tre, a Waubonsie Community College student, is in a contest to win a new van that will help him get around easier and is looking to raise awareness about National Mobility Month. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Donations to help the Winfreys replace their broken van, and help get Tre out of the house and living life again, can be made at Old Second National Bank in Aurora. The Richard “Tre” Winfrey Benefit Account number is 10101037280.

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Updated: June 11, 2013 6:36AM

Richard “Tre” Winfrey of Aurora was 17 years old when a bullet coursed through the window of his car, changing his life forever. In the blink of an eye, the jovial teenager who was “on top of the world” went from an agile athlete to a quadriplegic, thanks to the misdeeds of a still unknown assailant.

“Never in a million lifetimes,” did Tre expect to become the victim of someone’s bullet, he said, describing the casual seconds that led up to the life-changing event in March 2007.

Nobody, besides the shooter, knows why the former East Aurora High School student was shot. Perhaps a case of mistaken identity. Perhaps a gang-related shooting gone awry, his mother, Rita, ponders. But, the two give little credence to those thoughts. It’s not worth their time, or energy, they said Thursday.

What does matter is that they continue to move forward. So, at the front entryway to their home sits a sign, a subtle reminder to how far they have come. “Relax. God will take care of it,” the framed picture reads. And that is the hope both Tre and his mother have this week.

On Tuesday, the family van that has helped transport Tre to doctor’s appointments, to college classes, to movies, friends’ houses and restaurants, gave out after years of use. The lift collapsed, and so did Tre’s connection to the outside world.

“We’re really stuck until we get something going here,” Rita lamented.

Friday is the final day to vote for Tre in a National Mobility Awareness Month contest, which could help his family win a new van.

To get a new van, “a God-given miracle will have to take place” Rita said. “But, God will touch somebody’s heart. God holds the key to everyone’s heart.

It is that faith that has gotten the Winfreys from the dark place they were in six years ago to where they are today.

As far as resilience goes, Tre Winfrey has mastered the art.

“Somebody is always going to have it worse than me. So, I am thankful. I feel like I’m truly blessed,” he said, talking about his aspirations to become a math teacher or motivational speaker in the future. This makes his mother beam with pride. She smiles, staring at her son as he sits in his motorized chair at her side.

“He’s my hero. You just don’t know,” she said softly. “I’ve learned a few lessons going through this journey. You have to trust in God, and believe the best is yet to come.”

The family has tossed pity to the side. Instead of asking “Why?” they ask “What’s next?”

“If God brought us to it, he is going to get us through it,” Rita said. “We just keep moving, and doors open up for us.”

It’s also hard to see the pace at which the lives around him are changing. “Everybody got to move on,” he said. “You see them with kids now, and it’s like a feeling where, I don’t want to say I’m stuck, but...”

“But, you’re stuck,” Rita said.

Which is why having a new van will mean so much to this family.

More importantly, “Iron Man 3” just came out in theatres, Tre said with a smile, and he can’t wait to see it.

“I’ve been cooped-up in the house since Tuesday.”

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