Wounded Hunter High student defies the odds, out of ICU, on ‘long road’ to recovery; family thanks community for love, support

Ephraim Asiata. Photo: GoFundMe

MURRAY, Utah, Jan. 23, 2022 (Gephardt Daily) — Doctors gave 15-year-old shooting victim Ephraim Asiata a one percent chance of survival, his uncle told reporters Sunday.

“And I think literally that’s all he needed,” said Muka Atiga, the boy’s maternal uncle, speaking for the family at Intermountain Medical Center. “He’s proving that.”

Ephraim was one of three Hunter High football players targeted on Jan. 13 by another group of boys, also from Hunter High School in West Valley City. The altercation turned physical, and then one boy fired a gun. Asiata’s close friends,  Tivani Lopati, 14, and Paul Tahi, 15, died at the scene. Tahi was laid to rest on Saturday.

Ephraim was rushed into surgery. Three teen boys were immediately taken into custody as suspects, and one, age 14, was booked into juvenile detention. The gun was recovered in a yard a short distance from the crime scene.

Atiga says his family mourns the loss of Tahi and Lopati, whose grieving families are their friends. He chose not to answer questions about the crime or the teen taken into custody.

“We just wanted to say thank you to the community, thank you to everyone who’s supported us,” he said. “We’ve had so many people come to the hospital in support of Ephraim. We just want to express our gratitude for all that support.”

And to offer an update on Ephraim, who was only able to leave the intensive care unit a couple days ago, his uncle said.

“He’s got a long road ahead of him,” Atigi said. “As far as injuries, I won’t get into too much details. We’re hopeful that maybe at most a couple more weeks in the hospital. But he’s always been known for proving us wrong on everything else so he may be out sooner.”

Atigi said Ephraim is “so optimistic. He’s always been that way, though. He’s a confident kid, and he’s always been kind of the alpha among his peers, so that’s kind of how he’s taking this whole thing. Like, nothing’s really stopping him.”

Atigi said his sister and Ephraim’s father, former University of Utah and Minnesota Vikings running back Matt Asiata, have not left Ephraim’s bedside.

“Their spirits are high, especially with the progress that he’s made,” Atigi said, adding that until this weekend, Ephraim was unable to speak.

“It means the world to them,” he said. “It makes it easier when they can actually talk to him and have conversations with him and check up on him.”

Much of the rest of the family has been camped out in cars parked outside the hospital, Atigi said.

“We slept in the cars waiting for the phone to ring to let us know what the updates were,” he said. “Each update was either bad or good, and we just kind of rolled with it, and waited for the next one. So I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”

Atigi said he believes there’s no community more supportive than West Valley City.

“We see that every single day. The evidence is in how people show up. I’m sure we’ll have 100 cars out there, just to have them outside the window.”

Hunter High School is currently on a remote learning order, and Agigi said lots of students are learning from the hospital parking lot. Crowds of well wishers parked outside so Ephraim can hear them cheer when they see a phone flash inside his window, his uncle said.

“Everybody’s cheering as if he were on the football field,” Atigi said.

“He’s been able to see the community support. And I know he loves it. He thrives off of that. He’s that kind of a kid.”

Ephraim was recently able to sit in a wheelchair to take a brief hospital tour, for a change of view, Agigi said, but his nephew has not been out of bed much beyond that.

His nephew’s survival after the shooting is “a miracle,” Atigi said.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anybody, but we’re grateful we’re getting through it. No one ever thinks that this should have happened to them, and I wish it would never happen to anybody. But he was given that burden. And we as a family, we’ve always been the same way. Whoever has a burden was gonna try and carry it ourselves if we can, and if you can’t, we’re gonna be there every step of the way. And luckily, we have a community that has that same mindset. And so hundreds and hundreds of people have been able to help carry this burden for him as much as we can.”

Atigi said Ephraim’s parents told him his friends Paul and Tivani did not survive the shootings.

“Knowing Ephraim, I know as he progresses in his recovery, he’s going to live life for those two as well.”

Atigi said Ephraim’s parents just want the community to know they are grateful.

“We’re super grateful that we feel those prayers and all the support, whether they know him or not. Then showing up and the messages and everything has just been incredible.”

(L-R) Tivani Lopati and Paul Tahi are depicted in a drawing and a childhood photo. Sources: GoFundMe

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