Cashmere Hamilton-Grunau leaned on his crutches, gingerly shuffling down the hospital's pediatric ward with the assistance of a physical therapist. Family members offered soft words of encouragement as he slowly crossed the hallway.
The movement captured on video and shared on social media marked a miraculous step toward recovery for the 16-year-old North High School football player, who had been shot less than 24 hours earlier while walking home in north Minneapolis.
"I just can't thank God enough for giving [him] another day, another chance," said Jessica Grunau, his aunt and legal guardian. "I'm just so grateful that he's alive."
Police responded to a shots fired call in the 2100 block of N. 8th Avenue just before 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and found Cashmere with gunshot wounds to both legs. First responders applied two tourniquets before rushing him to HCMC.
The junior multisport athlete was prominently featured in the recent Showtime documentary "Boys in Blue," which chronicled the Polars' 2021 football season. Supporters packed the hospital's emergency entrance late into the evening awaiting further condition updates, but reported that he was awake and in good spirits despite his serious injuries.
Cashmere — known as Cash — was walking home alongside his best friend after dusk when a car began following them, Grunau said. Teenagers inside the vehicle reportedly made a comment inquiring whether the teens were in a gang. Cashmere got scared and ran.
Someone in the car opened fire, striking him three times — twice in the right leg and once in the left. Doctors informed the family that one bullet is likely to remain lodged in his right leg for the rest of his life. Cashmere's friend was uninjured.
Relatives say they're relieved that none of the rounds struck major bones or arteries. But they are struggling to understand why the standout wrestler and starting lineman would be targeted.
"He doesn't have enemies," said Grunau, who worries about possibility of longterm psychological trauma. "Will he ever feel safe walking alone again?"
Cashmere's full prognosis was not immediately clear Thursday, but friends and relatives said they were heartened to see him up and moving about — even cracking jokes.
In a statement to the Star Tribune, the Minneapolis School District sent best wishes for Cashmere's recovery and made clear that the "incident did not happen on the North campus, was not related to a school activity, nor was it during a walk home from school."
But the shooting is sure to open fresh wounds in the tightknit North High community, still reeling from the loss of its star quarterback Deshaun Hill Jr. The 15-year-old honor roll student was gunned down by a stranger at a Northside bus stop on Feb. 9, 2022, while walking home from school. His killer, 30-year-old Cody Fohrenkam, is serving a 38 1⁄2-year prison sentence for the murder.
Hill is the lead subject in the four-part Showtime series, which offers an intimate look at the football team and a coaching staff composed of Minneapolis police officers, set in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder.
In the premiere episode, Cashmere introduces himself to the audience by saying: "Football, it's my way out. It's my way of repaying my family for everything they've done for me."
"The community that we're in, sometimes it's not safe," he continued, vowing to use his prowess on the field to punch his ticket to a Division I college. "I'm gonna get my family out of these areas."
On Wednesday night, responding MPD officer Brittney Adams helped usher Cashmere to the hospital, riding in the back of the ambulance in place of his aunt. Adams is the daughter of Fourth Precinct Inspector Charlie Adams and the sister of longtime North High football coach Charles Adams III.
"I put all my trust in her," Grunau said, tearing up from emergency room entrance.
Many of Cashmere's friends woke up to the news on social media Thursday morning before heading to school. In a Facebook video, North High Principal Mauri Friestleben noted that her students are dealing with "abnormal heaviness and burdens that age them beyond their years" as they process this latest shooting.
One by one, a group of classmates assembled before the camera offered their wishes for a speedy recovery.
"We love you. We know you're strong; We know you're fighting," said Noah Tietjen, a varsity football teammate who found encouragement in the videos of Cashmere beginning to walk in the hospital. "We know you're gonna get back on your feet."
"Your motivation is beyond anybody, so I know you're gonna get through this," added fellow linebacker Kahlil Brown. "Get back on that field!"
Staff writer Mara Klecker contributed to this report.