PALM DESERT, Calif.- - It was New Year's Eve in 1972 and 8-year-old Ryan Kopald was riding his bike along what is now Fred Waring in Palm Desert, alongside his mother, father, and one-year-old sister.
The eight-year-old suddenly fell from his bike; he had been struck by a bullet.
Kopald's family rushed him to Indio Community Hospital, thinking he had been hit in the head by a rock. He was examined, and a large caliber bullet was found lodged in his head.
After the shooting, Kopald remained in a coma for five days, and it took him three years to learn how to walk again.
No shooter was ever found.
Years later, many questions remain unanswered.
The odds that Kopald would accidentally get shot in the open desert are millions to one. But Kopald is hoping the odds are a lot better that someone hearing his story will remember what happened and clear up what's been unresolved for so long.
"The bullet's in perfect form. It's a large caliber bullet," explained Kopald, who now lives in the Los Angeles area, but grew up in the Coachella Valley, at a home on Texas Avenue in the Palm Desert Country Club.
Kopald recounted the trajectory his life took after his brain took a bullet 46 years ago.
"I went from this little kid who would have been, could have been, had every possibility... and then I woke up on January 5th, 1973, after five days of being in a coma, totally paralyzed from the neck down," he said.
Kopald drove with News Channel 3's Brooke Beare down the street where it happened west of Washington and east of Warner Trail on Fred Waring, which used to be Avenue 44.
"All this was desert," he gestured. No cars, not traffic, two lanes 55 miles an hour."
"My parents just said let's go for a bike ride. At about 10:30 in the morning," he remembered.
The rest of the story is what Kopald lived through afterward, and what he's been told since.
His mother shared the story in an emotional e-mail in 2009, which she recounted for News Channel 3.
"Your father had gotten himself and me new 10 speed Schwinns for Christmas, and we had a back-pack-like thing for Theanne (Ryan's sister) to be on your father's back... There was nothing but open....beautifully open desert with rolling sand dunes and desert shrub...Almost immediately after the wind came up I heard a soft popping sound and you said 'Oh.....Mommy' and you and your bike fell, almost like slow motion to the right into the sand. I got off my bike and ran to you. Your eyes were open but you did not respond. I could not understand."
Listen to Nancy Kopald's entire message to her son:
Kopald's family thought he'd been hit by a rock, so he was taken to Indio Community Hospital on Miles Avenue, where the bullet was found, and Kopald was transferred to Desert Hospital, and into the care of neurosurgeon Peter Lake, who said more damage would be done if the bullet was taken out, than if it was left in.
Days later, newspapers reported Kopald was still in critical condition and that deputies were still 'seeking witnesses' to the shooting.
Sue Karr, Archivist at the Coachella Valley History Museum recalled the desert was a much different place in 1972.
"We lived in the Palm Desert County Club when we first moved here," she recalled, unsurprised that no shooter was ever found.
"Not a bit," said Karr. "Because it was nothing there. Nothing out there. Nothing. And I'm sure whoever shot the kids was devastated."
"I spent three years learning how to walk again from the age of 8 to the age of 11," said Kopald, who suspects the shooters were kids, perhaps firing guns into the open desert of the wash area where the Tennis Garden is now. He does not know if the shooters even realized what they'd done.
"I don't have anger," said Kopald. "I just have curiosity."
He is hopeful he could someday close the book on what he believes was just an accident.
"Why did this happen to me? Because I could handle it."
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol does not have records of this case because it's too old, but anyone who knows anything about what happened to Kopald should contact email@example.com
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