SEATTLE -- Meet Hamoody Smith, a fearless, wildly ambitious 12-year-old boy.
For a moment when you see him, you are struck by what's different about him physically: The facial disfigurement. The prosthetic eye. The misshapen nose.
But within moments all of that is gone, and you are struck by what's different about him in every other way; the life that seems to pour out of him in endless streams, the energy that never ceases, the intellect and the drive.
He loves to get physical. You should see him grinding and gutting it out on the wrestling mat. He throws 'em down. They throw him down. And he loves it.
Hamoody is aggressive. You could even call him cocky. His is an invincible, unbendable will.
As he sits on his bed wearing a Marshawn Lynch jersey holding a football, with a WSU pillow propped up behind him, I ask him about his life philosophy. His credo. He answers this way: "What I do is I'm thankful for my setbacks, and those have become my blessings."
"How do you make that happen?" I ask. He stops for a moment and then replies, "I just believe that...I can't be stopped."
In that moment, I believe it too.
I think that maybe when you've been where Hamoody has been, fear's hold on the soul loses some of its power. He says, without the slightest hint of false bravado, "I'm not afraid of anything."
He is at once both incredibly unlucky, and incredibly fortunate. In 2005, his Shiite family was ambushed in a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. His uncle was killed. His mother was shot. The attackers then turned a shotgun on Hamoody, and shot him in the face at close range. It would be the last thing he ever saw. One eye was shot out. The other was blinded.
He was 2-years old.
Another uncle sent him to the United States in hopes that his sight could be saved. It could not be.
He stayed with Robert and Julie Smith, who live in Snohomish. They fell for him right away. There was just something special, they say now.
The blind are considered outcasts in Iraq. They are not educated. They are often turned out into the streets. It has been said that it's better to die than to be blind in Iraq. So Hamoody's uncle sought a chance for the boy. He asked if Hamoody might be able to be adopted.
Our cameras first met Hamoody that year. He said, "I want to stay." Reporter Marlee Ginter said, "Talk to me about why you want to stay..." Little Hamoody, just 4 years old said, " 'Cause I don't want to get hurt again."
Thinking back to the time of the adoption, Randy Smith marvels. "When he first got here I mean... we weren't... we weren't even 100% certain he was blind because he was so intuitive," he said.
A staggering 20 operations later, you should see Hamoody now. He navigates the hallways of Riverview Elementary School like he owns the place. He knows where every wall is, every column. And when we were doing an interview in the hallway, some younger kids made the mistake of running by. Hamoody snapped at them. "Don't run! Don't run! You're going to kill somebody."
Watching him engage with his world is a humbling thing. During our interview in his bedroom, he reaches behind him and grabs a football. How did he know it was behind him?
After band practice he walks over to where a bunch of backpacks are lined up. He touches one, then another, recognizes the second one and grabs it. How did he know it was his?
Tonya Forster is his assistant at school. She knows him as well as anybody. When I ask her to describe Hamoody, she can't speak for a moment, then replies, "He's... I don't know I've never seen anything like him."
At the school Christmas assembly they called out his name and Hamoody stepped forward, sat down at a piano, and started playing Christmas songs. There truly is no fear in this boy. He's not self-conscious about his disfigurement. He has no doubt about his own abilities. When his last song is finished, he stands up to applause, and takes his place in the trumpet section of the band and picks up his other instrument.
Later, he gave me a lesson in something called Echo Location. He makes a clicking sound with his tongue, and uses his amazing ears to measure the echo the sound makes. He spins in a circle making the sound, then announces, "It's about 30-feet from that wall to that wall." Astounding.
I challenged him to walk straight towards a wall using echo location and stop right before he runs into it. He smiles, and takes off with big strides, clicking once, but mostly listening to the squeak of his tennis shoes. Right as I'm about to shout out, "Stop!" he pulls up, just inches from the wall.
"I kind of can't believe that." I say.
"Routine," he replies.
He told me that sometimes when a kid says, "Lookout, there's a wall over there," he stops them and says, "shhhh...I knew that wall was there before you did."
His mother Julie seems a little distraught. "He wants to play football next year in middle school... and i'm just like 'arghhhhh!' " she said.
I ask Hamoody if that's true and he comes to life. "Well," he says, "slap pads and a helmet on me and I'm going to go tackle somebody! I don't care if he's got the ball or not!"
He studies in the "highly capable" program at Riverview Elementary... and it doesn't take long to figure out that he is indeed "highly capable."
I said to him, "You're still just a kid but you kind of seem like a grown-up. Has anyone ever told you that?"
Hamoody answered, "Yeah. Is it because of my vernacular?"
He cracks me up.
He doesn't remember being shot. Doesn't talk about it much... but every once in awhile he drops something like this on you:
"I remember dying, but... that's about it."
I say, "Did you say dying?"
"Yeah. dying." He makes the signal for having his throat cut.
I'm stunned for a moment. "Why do you use that word?"
"Because I left my body and went to heaven. Three times. Died, went to heaven, came back. Three times."
"How does that change a guy?" I wonder.
"You don't forget that," he says, then after a moment as I sit there with my mouth open, he says, "and to this day sometimes I hear angels singing outside my window. And how many people that you've ever met have ever told you that?"
I watch him playing the baby grand piano in his living room. His parents are in the kitchen. What does the future hold for this kid? There seem to be absolutely no limitations, because he refuses to acknowledge them.
Tanya Forster says, "I cannot wait to see what he's going to do."
His dad says, "It'll be interesting. We're just kind of along for the ride."
I think to myself, "The world isn't going to know what hit it."
Hamoody looks at it this way. "You just keep going. That's my mindset. Just keep going."
His face is disfigured. He is completely blind. He's undergone 20 operations, with more probably still to come.
And do you know what? He might be the most beautiful boy I've ever met.