(NEW YORK) — It was any mother’s worst nightmare. In April 2019, Kari Hoffmann witnessed a man toss her 5-year-old son over a third-floor balcony while shopping at a mall. As a result, her son suffered multiple life-threatening injuries including broken arms, a broken leg and skull fractures.
Three-and-a-half years later, after her son made a miraculous recovery, Hoffmann decided she was ready to share her story and spoke first to ABC News’ Good Morning America about the incident.
“I was frozen in time until I was able to speak, and now is the time that is right in our lives where we’ve done a lotta healing, where it’s time to move forward with the story of the miracle of Landen,” said Hoffmann.
Hoffmann had taken her son Landen and one of his friends to the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota. She said they had just completed a parent-teacher conference day and were looking for a way to “celebrate” when a stranger approached them.
“We were just looking at the alligator at the Rainforest Café, and a stranger came up and was whispering to these two little boys. And I thought that he was gonna turn this alligator on for them,” said Hoffmann. “He snatched [Landen] and ran. And I was just frozen … It happened so fast. I screamed, ‘No!’ after he was already thrown.”
“I don’t even remember running down the escalators, but I was screaming the whole time, ‘No, Landen’s not gonna die,'” she added.
She said the incident quickly drew a crowd. All Hoffmann asked of them was to “pray.”
“I don’t care who was looking. If they were looking, I asked them to pray,” she said. “He’s got a heartbeat. He was breathing. We got in the ambulance, and right before they shut the door, he opened his eyes for a second.”
Hoffmann said that Landen was immediately rushed into emergency brain trauma surgery. Relatives gathered while her son was on the operating table, and they were all there when a doctor delivered the news: Her son was “going to be okay.”
“Listening to him breathing with the machine’s beeping was the best sound I’ve ever heard in my life,” said Hoffmann. “Because that meant he was alive.”
Landen was in the hospital for four months. Hoffmann said she would journal to keep track of her son’s recovery. She said he made it just in time to attend the first day of kindergarten that year, only five days after he was released from the hospital. Despite the triumph, Landen at first struggled with some behavioral issues, but has since re-learned “to follow the rules.”
In May 2019, Emmanuel Aranda, 24, pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder and was sentenced to 19 years in prison for the attack. Aranda, who was reportedly banned from the mall on two other instances, said that he was “looking for someone to kill” when he tossed Landen from the balcony.
Hoffmann said she’s forgiven Aranda because “it’s a decision that you have to make so that God can do what he needs to do in your life … and that was to save Landen.”
Last year, the Hoffmanns filed a lawsuit through their attorney Mark Briol against the Mall of America, claiming that the mall security should have prevented Aranda from entering the building. The lawsuit sought unspecified damages for Landen’s medical expenses.
On Dec. 5, the family’s attorneys announced that the lawsuit was confidentially settled and released a statement saying they were working together with Mall of America on policy changes to ensure a similar incident doesn’t happen again.
Good Morning America reached out to Mall of America for comment on the settlement, and the mall reiterated the joint statement with the family.
“Mall of America and the family have agreed to work together with a focus on safety, and already are jointly pursuing policy changes to existing trespass limits for violent criminals so as to give greater ability to preclude such persons from their premises,” said the statement, in part.
Now, Landen is 8 years old. He enjoys playing hockey and is looking forward to his birthday in January, his mother said.
“Angels caught him, there’s no denying it,” she told GMA. “Yes, he had injuries, and we had to live through all of this pain to get to the end. But sometimes God allows us to go through things to teach us something.”
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