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Viera High JROTC founder shot by bandit in Haiti; fundraiser planned at Space Coast Stadium


Rick Neale 

Florida Today  6/12/21

Driving home from a restaurant in Haiti, American missionaries Mike and Hope Sonnenschein were passed by two men on a motorcycle, which abruptly stopped — and the passenger turned toward them wearing a mask and wielding a pistol.

"The decision to evade was instinctive, as Mike immediately pressed on the accelerator to get around them," Hope Sonnenschein described later in a Facebook post.

"The gunman shot through the driver's window, hitting Mike in the scapula. The bullet spilt into two pieces, one lodging in the spine, and the other injuring and lodging in the left lung," she wrote.

"Mike was instantly paralyzed from the chest down," she wrote.

Now, well-wishers on the Space Coast are organizing a pep-rally-style fundraiser with a host of speakers at 6:30 p.m. June 22 at USSSA Space Coast Stadium in Viera to defray the family's mounting medical bills. Tickets cost $20, and they are available at the door or online at

Nicknamed "Ranger Mike," Sonnenschein co-founded the Viera High Army Junior ROTC program during the 2010-11 school year. Prior to that, he coached the Florida Institute of Technology Army ROTC Ranger team.

In 2016, Mike and Hope Sonnenschein left Viera and moved to Haiti to become full-time missionaries, serving in and around Cap-Haïtien, a port city on the northern coast. They are sponsored by Calvary Chapel Melbourne's Viera campus.

"They have a hard time understanding how something so tragic could happen to such a good person," Melbourne Vice Mayor Tim Thomas said of Sonnenschein's friends and former students.

"That's one of the things we want to do with this rally that we're having: Give the people a different message, that God can still work through a tragic situation," Thomas said.

"Mike and Hope will be the first ones to tell you that, even though this has happened to them — and it's very traumatic and horrible — they have seen God's work in their lives even more so than ever before," he said.

Thomas, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, co-founded the Viera High JROTC program with Sonnenschein. They worked together for five years.

Thomas is organizing the Space Coast Stadium fundraiser with Donn Weaver, who chairs the Brevard Veterans Council, and the Cape Canaveral chapter of the Military Officers Association of America.

Mike Sonnenschein served in Panama, Gulf War, Afghanistan

Sonnenschein is a retired Army Ranger master sergeant who logged combat tours in Panama, the Gulf War and Afghanistan. He served with the 75th Ranger Regiment, 101st Airborne Division and 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment.

“I could not believe that there were 200 cadets in that class. They were doing such outstanding things," said Weaver, who met Sonnenschein via the Viera High JROTC program in 2013.

"Mike was like the rock that was Tim able to count on — somebody who would always get the job done, who cared so much about those students," Weaver said.

Critically injured by the Haitian gunman's bullet on May 27, Sonnenschein was transported by air ambulance jet the next day to Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans, where he was admitted to the intensive care unit.

Mike Sonnenschein later underwent chest surgery and started physical therapy — and he started feeling sensation in his feet and legs.

Wednesday afternoon, he was flown to Shepherd Center in Atlanta, a rehabilitation facility specializing in patients with spinal cord injuries.

Haiti — the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere — has yet to vaccinate a single resident against COVID-19, Bloomberg reported Tuesday. A rash of kidnappings and gang violence has arisen in recent months.

Two days before Sonnenschein was attacked, a staff member of a Doctors Without Borders Haitian trauma hospital was fatally shot while he was returning home from work.

The Sonnenscheins worked with Medical Ambassadors Haiti, a nonprofit dedicated to disease prevention, access to clean water, Bible study and other humanitarian activities.

Viera High's JROTC program fields rifle, drill and Raider athletic teams, along with a color guard. About 205 students are enrolled this year, Thomas said.

Cadets report for physical training Mondays, classroom instruction Tuesdays and Thursdays, uniform inspection on Wednesdays, and "drill and ceremony" on Fridays.

Space Coast Stadium also will host a donation drive event for the Sonnenschein family at 6:30 p.m. July 2, right before the 7 p.m. USSSA Pride game against Team Mexico.

The Good Deeds Foundation, a nonprofit administered by the MOAA Cape Canaveral chapter, is accepting donations for the Sonnenschein family. Visit the foundation website at or write to P.O. Box 560023, Rockledge, FL 32956-0023. Write "Ranger Mike Fund" on the memo line of the check.

In addition, a GoFundMe campaign benefiting the family has generated more than $64,000.


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