Palm Beach County girl shot in face in drive by shooting survives
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Palm Beach County girl shot in face in drive by shooting survives

May 25, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH — The call from the police officer gave Synthia Williams the shock of her lifetime. Her 8-year-old daughter had been shot in the face.

Lilah Williams-Sjosten and her sister were celebrating their friend's birthday with a weekend trip to SeaWorld on March 10. Before driving to Orlando, their friend's mother parked her car in front of her Fort Pierce home shortly after 6 p.m. The three girls stayed in the backseat while the mother loaded luggage into the vehicle.

Then two people drove down the mother's street in a white car and opened fire. Two bullets flew through the front windshield. One of them hit Lilah, a police officer told Williams.

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As she took the officer's call, Williams' horror grew: Where was Lilah? For several minutes, she didn't know.

"It was like my worse nightmare coming true," Williams, a Palm Beach Gardens resident, said last week. "It was really scary. I didn't know what to think. I didn't know where she was going and she was an hour away from me. I panicked."

Williams soon got word that a medical helicopter was flying her daughter to St. Mary's Medical Center in West Palm Beach. She arrived just before Lilah did at the hospital, where doctors spent the next two weeks restoring the girl's jaw.

"It didn't even hurt — not a single bit," said Lilah, a student at Beacon Cove Intermediate School in Jupiter. Her mother said Lilah never lost her spunk despite the trauma she endured.

Mother and daughter recounted their story at St. Mary's last week, along with the doctor who cared for Lilah.

Dr. Jason Portnof, a surgeon at St. Mary's, said he used cadaver bone and plates to create a structure to reconstruct Lilah's jaw on the right side.

"The gunshot wound that (Lilah) sustained to the face really damaged the right side of her lower jaw," Portnof said. "So we created a reconstructed jaw based on the uninjured side. We basically mirrored the uninjured side. We made a custom titanium plate to realign everything up."

Lilah was able to return to Beacon Cove a month and a half after the shooting.

"We’re all pleased with the results," Portnof said. "She is able to chew and function and talk and sing and do whatever she wants to do. She can do cartwheels again, no problem. I think we have had a successful outcome."

In six months, Lilah will undergo another surgery to remove a plate so that her jaw can grow back normally without restrictions.

It's not clear when anyone will know who fired the bullet that struck Lilah. Fort Pierce police said they made two arrests related to the shooting.

One was a 15-year-old who investigators say fired the gun, according to a probable-cause affidavit filed in the 19th Judicial Circuit, which covers Fort Pierce. He has not been charged as an adult.

The other was an 18-year-old who they believed was driving the vehicle. Court records indicate prosecutors have dropped charges of being an accessory in his case.

The investigation into the shooting, however, remains open, Fort Pierce police said.

Williams says she knows there was "no reason" her daughter was shot, She just doesn't want moments like that to keep happening. She said she is grateful that her daughter is still with her and on the road to a full recovery.

"When they told me that (Lilah) was shot in the face, I thought that everything could be wrong," Williams said. "But everything's normal. She can talk fine and her personality never changed. She's strong-minded and everything turned out really good."

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