Aymen Derbali, paralyzed in Quebec City mosque shooting, receives $400K for new house

A crowdfunding campaign launched in December has collected $416,335 to help a man left paralyzed by the Quebec City mosque shooting buy a home adapted to his disability.

Crowdfunding campaign garnered funds from 4,800 people in 40 countries

Aymen Derbali received the cheque in front of hundreds of people in the very room where he was shot seven times, at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City. (Léa Beauchesne/Radio-Canada)

Aymen Derbali was visibly emotional as he accepted a cheque for more than $400,000 on Saturday night.

After being left paralyzed from the chest down just over a year ago in a shooting at a Quebec City mosque, the father of three will never walk again.

But he will be able to live in an accessible home with his family thanks to a crowdfunding campaign launched in December by Toronto-based non-profit group DawaNet, which garnered $416,335 to help Derbali purchase a home adapted to his disability.

"Every second, I imagine myself playing with my children in the house," Derbali said. "This gives me strength."

He received the cheque in front of hundreds of community members in the very room where he was shot seven times, at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City.

"To be here after over a year of what happened, and to be part of something positive, something that Aymen can look forward to for his future with his family and kids… emotionally it was really heartwarming," said Tariq Syed, who worked with DawaNet on the campaign since day one.

Donors from over 40 countries

About 4,800 donors from more than 40 countries contributed to the campaign, according to DawaNet.

"This is a story that really captured the imagination of people around the world," said Amira Elghawaby, a volunteer who worked on Derbali's campaign.

She said Derbali's optimism and faith in humanity also inspired a lot of people.

Derbali is father to sons Ayoub and Youssouf, 5, and 22-month-old daughter Maryem. (Submitted by Tariq Syed)

Though Syed said the campaign started off a bit slow, media coverage on the anniversary of the shooting on Jan. 29 helped push the numbers up.

Campaigners had originally hoped to raise $400,000 by the anniversary. But they had only garnered $385,000 a few days prior that date, and decided to extend the deadline by more than a week.

Organizers were thrilled to see the total surpass the original goal by the new target date in February.

The family has put an offer on a house and hopes to move in there in May, after some modifications are made.

"I am looking forward to living there with my beautiful family and I am looking forward to a bright future, despite all of the darkness we have been through," Derbali said after he received the cheque.

He is currently living in a rehabilitation centre, away from his family.

Derbali's story a 'shining light'

Alexandre Bissonnette's plead guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder earlier this week.

Elghawaby said that being able to accept the money helps close the chapter on what happened.

"I think that it's been very difficult for many community members… All of us are touched by what happened," she said. "Aymen's story is the shining light in the midst of it."

Aymen Derbali reacts to the guilty plea by Alexandre Bissonnette for the 2017 mosque shooting, Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at the hall of justice in Quebec City. Derbali was injured during the shooting and has been paralyzed since. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

On the day of the attack, Derbali met the gunman's eyes, deliberately trying to make himself a target, so that others who had been praying nearby would escape the bullets.

Derbali, who was in a coma for two months, was in the courtroom when Bissonnette pleaded guilty.

"He was in a coma for so long after, people actually lost hope. Even doctors gave up hope on him," Syed said.

Elghawaby added that Aymen being able to purchase a new home is a win for love, and a defeat of hate — but that the hate does persist.

"Muslims in Quebec have experienced a lot of discrimination. A lot of day-to-day micro-aggressions that unfortunately continue until now," Elghawaby said.

With files from Elysha Enos