The first one to greet Boone Bartlome when he returned to Kuna did so with his paws and a wet nose.
That would be Zeke, Bartlomes yellow Lab, who climbed into the front seat of the car to say hello.
Zeke, like the hundreds of people gathered at Kuna High on a wet and cold Thursday afternoon, was there to welcome Bartlome home after nearly three months at a Denver hospital undergoing rehabilitation for a broken neck suffered in a Nov. 8 high school football playoff game in Boise.
This is amazing. There are no words to describe it, said Dianna Bartlome, Bartlomes mother.
I had no idea anything like this was going to happen and its just so heartwarming that so many people would care.
So many do, including the Kuna High School students and community members who stood along the driveway that carried Bartlome and his family onto the school grounds.
They carried signs and banners, released gold and black balloons Kunas school colors and chanted Boone while his father, Shane Bartlome, helped the high school junior into his wheelchair.
The event was organized by Kuna High football coach Lee Leslie, who said he hasnt slept a full night since Bartlome left the field in an ambulance and without movement in his arms or legs in November.
I knew coach couldnt let me come home without a big show, Bartlome said. ... It helps a ton knowing that youre cared for.
It wasnt until the family approached the school and began to see the crowd that they sensed something might be up.
Is this for me? Bartlome asked his parents. Are we going over there?
He was very surprised and very shocked, his mother said.
Shane Bartlome could not hold back tears as he drove. A crowd surrounded the car on both sides.
Bartlome can move his arms, and, on the final day at Craig Hospital in Denver, was able to move his feet while holding a walker. He said he has no feeling in his legs but does have some feeling in his hands.
His goal: Walking as much as I can until I can walk without anything.
He made plenty of progress during his time at Craig, which specializes in spinal cord injuries. The Bartlomes left for Denver several weeks after the injury and Bartlomes original treatments.
The family is encouraged by how far the teen has come in his recovery.
Every day we would get to see something. No matter how little it was, it seemed like every day there was something that encouraged us, Dianna Bartlome said.
He worked so hard, Shane Bartlome said. Hes got a lot to come back in his legs. Hes making progress being able to walk with the walker and help. One day at a time. Hes got plenty of things to worry about, but at the same time, were thankful for what he has.
Said Boone: Its wild how far Ive come in this short time.
There are still steps, many steps, to take. But the family, finally, is beginning to gain some normalcy.
Were just so happy to get out of the hospital and be able to have a normal night of sleeping all the way through without people coming in, said Shane Bartlome, who had not returned to Kuna since heading to Denver with his son.
The Bartlome home is being remodeled to be wheelchair accessible, including the addition of an accessible bathroom. The family will stay at a friends home close by until the remodeling is done in a few weeks.
Bartlome is also expected to return to Kuna High in about a week, his mother said. He is still on pace to graduate next year with his class. He will continue his physical therapy in Boise.
We need to incorporate school and life and everything else, Dianna Bartlome said.
The outpouring of support wont stop.
Friends helped paint and fix up the Bartlomes home while they were gone. Leslie announced a 5K charity run in March in honor of Bartlome.
But for now, at least the Bartlomes are home, surrounded by loved ones and loved pets.
Hes really looking forward to getting home, seeing his friends, seeing his dog, Shane Bartlome said. And getting back to it.
Brian Murphy: 377-6444,Twitter: @MurphsTurph