In the darkness of a chilly January evening nearly one year ago, Ryan Martin screamed to warn his stepfather of the gunman approaching six feet away.

Seconds earlier, Ryan's family had gotten out of two cars in front of their Friendship Heights home when an ex-boyfriend of the family's former housekeeper bounded toward them, waving a gun.

He fired three times at Ryan's stepfather, missing. The gunman then spun around and looked Ryan in the eye. The 12-year-old desperately whirled back toward an open car door to escape, but the man, his face filled with fury, lifted the .38-caliber revolver and aimed.

Two bullets struck Ryan in the back, shattering his shoulder and crushing a rib. One missed his aorta by a centimeter. "I fell backward and yelled, 'I can't feel my legs, Mom,' " Ryan recalled recently. "And then I remember getting really hot really quick."

Within hours, Ryan's parents -- David and Sharan Kuperman -- heard the painful news. Their son -- a star soccer player and basketball enthusiast -- was a paraplegic. Paralyzed from the waist down, Ryan would never walk again.

Today, Ryan plays a lot of tennis with his new Bard graphite racket. He rides the Metro. He races down school hallways.

Ryan is in a wheelchair, but you wouldn't know it by listening to him. "I'm working on my backhand right now," he said, explaining what he does when he's not studying for eighth-grade exams. "I've also been killing my dad in Ping-Pong. And I was just in a march for Soviet Jewry."

The story of Ryan Martin is one of terror and anguish. But it is also one of hope.

From the trials of this middle-class family in upper Northwest Washington emerges a profile of an energetic, athletic adolescent with big dreams who is not about to let a spinal cord injury slow him down.

Since the night he was shot, Ryan has been challenged by the loss of the use of his legs. The doctors who treated Ryan and the many friends who visited him in the hospital said that he was remarkably -- almost unnaturally -- strong in the face of a permanent injury. And today, it is that courage and spirit that holds the Kuperman family together.

"I've been asked if I have what it takes to get through this," Sharan Kuperman said. "I have to have what it takes, for one reason. Ryan has what it takes."

After spending months in a rehabilitation hospital, Ryan raised himself up on leg braces in June to read from the Torah at his bar mitzvah. At about the same time he joined a wheelchair tennis group, and he has already played in two tournaments, including the D.C./Sovran Bank Tennis Classic.

This week, Ryan is in Israel, where he is the first young disabled athlete to be invited by the U.S. Committee, Sports for Israel, to spend 10 days at the Ilan Center outside of Tel Aviv, being coached by world class disabled athletes, including the third-ranked wheelchair tennis player in the world.

"After I heard his story and realized his determination to someday become a great wheelchair tennis player, I thought it would be a worthwhile scholarship to send him to one of the leading rehabilitation centers in the world for disabled people," said Alan Sherman, a vice president for the sports organization.

The Kupermans' four-story house on quiet, tree-lined Morrison Street near Connecticut Avenue filled with laughter and singing this month at his family's annual Hanukah party. Surrounded by the soft glow of menorah candles, David Kuperman recounted the Hanukah story to dozens of children and family friends who crowded into the family living room.

The scene was a stark contrast to the early January evening when the only sounds in Ryan's former home on Belt Road NW were the screams of his parents, the static of police radios and the whining of ambulance sirens.

Ryan and his family had just driven up to their home when a blue Datsun with its lights out slowly pulled alongside them.

"We were coming home from my baby brother's school dinner," said Ryan. "And my dad and my brother, Gabriel, were in the car in front of us. My mom and I were in the car behind it because my {stepfather} met us there. And we had just pulled into our parking spot, and he just drove up with his lights out, hopped out and shot at David . . . . "

The gunman, Fekadu Abtew, was deranged over a failed relationship with a housekeeper who used to work for Ryan's family, Tizeta Workineh. Workineh, who told the Kupermans that Abtew had threatened her with a gun and had beaten her, abruptly left their household a few months before the shooting, without giving a reason.

Abtew, frustrated and angry over the breakup, apparently believed that the Kupermans were hiding her. He haunted them for months with threatening phone calls that began about Thanksgiving 1986, soon after she left, and took place at all hours of the day and night.

The Kupermans didn't want to believe that he posed any danger to their lives.

"It just wasn't part of our experience," said David Kuperman. "I couldn't go that far beyond normalcy to believe that I'm connected somehow to this crazy person who wants to shoot us."

The family called the police several times. David Kuperman said he contacted the U.S. attorney's office, where a mediator ordered Abtew, a manager and cashier at a Crystal City parking lot, to leave the family alone. But he was not deterred.

At about 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 21, Abtew drove up to the Kupermans' two-story brick house with a gun. "The way I see it, everything was absolutely still," said David Kuperman. "His face had a look of ruthless determination."

"I saw this terrific muzzle flash," he said. "And the sound of it was like a cap pistol. It didn't sound like the kind of gun that you hear at the movies. I shouted out, 'What the hell are you doing?' It just seemed like a bad joke."

After Abtew missed David, he turned and faced Ryan, who was trying to duck into the family's green Mercedes-Benz. "Please, please, don't hurt me," Ryan begged.

This time the bullets didn't miss. "I didn't feel anything," said Ryan. "I didn't hear it. But I was on the ground. And I was thinking, 'It's going to snow. How am I going to get inside?' "

Abtew walked briskly to his car and sped off. A few hours later, he committed suicide by shooting himself in the head in The Queen of Sheba Restaurant and Bar in Baltimore, where he had apparently been harassing the manager.

At first, Ryan's parents thought that Abtew fired blanks, because David Kuperman was not hurt. Ryan, who had been carried inside by David Kuperman and a neighbor, was just scared, they thought. He was just in shock.

"He was saying, 'Mom, I can't feel my legs,' " his mother recounted. "And I kept saying, 'It's okay, because that was just a blank. Don't worry about it. You're probably just in shock.'

"I thought it was a cap gun," said Sharan Kuperman. "I was thinking, 'What is he doing? This is ridiculous to scare us with a cap gun like this.' And David wasn't falling down. So, it didn't look too serious to me."

But Ryan knew it was serious. "I didn't know what was wrong, but something was wrong," he said. "I knew the whole time that it wasn't shock."

By the time that police, firefighters and the Bethesda-Chevy Chase rescue squad arrived, Ryan's chest cavity was filling with blood, making it difficult to breathe. "They couldn't find a pulse," said David Kuperman. "His whole body was in trauma. He almost died."

The paramedics ripped off Ryan's blood-soaked jacket, wrapped his legs in emergency inflatable trousers that are used to squeeze blood from the lower part of the body to vital organs, and rushed him to Children's Hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition.

By midnight, doctors told his parents that one of the bullets had severed Ryan's spine and that he was paralyzed. He would have no feeling, no control, no use of his body from the waist down -- ever.

"I don't really ever remember understanding that he was paralyzed," said Sharan Kuperman. "I kept saying to a friend of mine who was a physician and came to the hospital, 'There's something that you can do to change this, right? This isn't the way it's going to be.'

"The permanence is something that I think is the hardest thing for me to deal with," she said. "You just can't believe that anybody is telling you something like that, so final."

The next day, Sharan and David Kuperman were called to a hospital meeting with doctors and physical therapists. "It was so totally unreal," said Sharan Kuperman. "They were talking about paraplegics. And I nearly ran out of the meeting because the word just killed me. I wanted to throw up in there. I couldn't think of my son having a label like that."

At the time, there was only one composed person in the family -- Ryan.

"He was amazingly calm," said Dr. Phil Guzetta, an attending surgeon who treated Ryan. "He seemed to be very much in control of a situation where most patients are fearful. He saw his injury as a personal challenge. It's almost unreal how he responded. It's beyond maturity."

Ryan's room at Children's Hospital filled with toys from friends who poured in to the hospital. Phone calls and cards arrived from all over the country. Ryan's favorite science teacher visited him frequently. Caterers sent food to the hospital. Friends cooked for the Kuperman family for months. The Kiwanis Club of Northwest Washington held a benefit featuring political satirist Mark Russell to help raise money for Ryan's costly care.

"We had so much support, it was amazing," Sharan Kuperman said.

In March, Ryan left Children's Hospital and was taken by ambulance to the Alfred I. duPont Institute in Wilmington, Del., where he underwent physical and occupational therapy for three months. While he was there, Ryan was tutored for his bar mitzvah over the telephone. He learned to shoot baskets from his wheelchair.

After Ryan left the duPont Institute, his parents bought a new house equipped with a special elevator. But they didn't move immediately, and Ryan had to live for weeks in the Belt Road home where his family had been terrorized and he had been shot.

"It was so hard," said Sharan Kuperman. "Ryan would actually have to get out of the car at the same place. He was so frightened, he would shake."

Ryan's room -- the top floor of his new house -- is, in some ways, the dream of a 13-year-old who wants to be an architect someday. He rides the tiny elevator, decorated with Gary Larson cartoon strips, to an attic bedroom with high ceilings and skylights.

Skinny gray wheels speed across the wood floors as Ryan proudly retrieves an essay that he wrote for English class at Edmund Burke School. Popular Science and Sports Illustrated magazines are strewn across his water bed. And leaning against the wall are a pair of tennis shoes attached to metal leg braces that Ryan uses for his physical therapy sessions.

Several flights down, David and Sharan Kuperman, both 43, sit at their kitchen table, sipping coffee and reliving the nightmare.

"The hardest thing about the whole incident is that we all know," said Sharan Kuperman. "We were all there. And that makes the tension ever harder. There was no way we could help each other in that moment because we were all instantly traumatized."

The couple, who have been married for four years, see a therapist at the Medical Illness Counseling Center near their home to deal with daily strains, struggles and fears. Every evening, David Kuperman, a financial planner for FSG Capital Corp. in Vienna, does yoga.

"I reject this business about people saying, 'Sharan and David, it's incredible how you're coping,' " said Sharan Kuperman, an audiovisual producer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Rockville. "There's no such thing as coping. It has to do with living your life for the people you love."

Ryan's parents try to abide by that philosophy as they juggle work, gatherings with friends, and their two children's school events. But beneath the seemingly cheerful bustle, there are moments of intense pain.

Several months ago, they went into a store to buy shoes for Gabriel, their youngest son. "All of a sudden, my husband and I both just started to weep in this shoe store," said Sharan Kuperman. "We were both thinking the same thing. We have a kid that's never going to feel his feet."

Also, the Kupermans are still gripped by moments of fear and terror.

Sometimes Sharan Kuperman will be driving a car when, suddenly, a vivid memory of the shooting creeps into her mind and she can't shake it for hours.

"During that first week in the hospital, if I saw someone reach into a pocket to scratch themselves, I thought they were going to shoot me," David Kuperman said. "A car slowing down on the street makes me scared."

David Kuperman, whose demeanor at first suggests stoic reserve, revealed that he is often wracked with guilt about the shooting and his inability to protect his son.

"Sometimes at night, I just feel his legs," he said, his eyes brimming with tears. "I feel awkward sometimes. I mean, when I see him not being able to walk, I feel good about being able to walk. And that makes me want to sort of stretch my legs out and move them around."

David Kuperman recalled how his private feelings of guilt about the shooting once spilled out during a business meeting.

"We were discussing the first half of the year," he said. "I didn't have a very good half of year. I was talking about it and, all of a sudden, I said, 'I think the problem is that I shouldn't have let my son get shot.' And I started to cry."

But for Ryan, there are no questions, no doubts about what his stepfather should have done that night. "Ryan thinks that if David had gone to help him, if his reaction would have been to actually go jump on Ryan to protect him, they would have both been killed," said Sharan Kuperman.

"Ryan thinks we were lucky," she said.

For Ryan's parents, part of the difficulty is sorting out which of Ryan's feelings stem from his injury and which simply come from his being a teen-ager. Ryan is still a 13-year-old with braces on his teeth who grimaces when his mother tells him to clean his room.

"He's going through all the adolescent stuff," said Sharan Kuperman. "It's a struggle for him because he needs to be independent at this time in his life. But he knows that being in a wheelchair, there's some things that he has got to depend on us for, and that is hard."

Despite his disability and occasional depression, Ryan exudes what one observer called "a deadly charm" -- a spirit and sense of humor that touch his family and friends, making the pain a little easier.

Ryan does not usually put on his 10-pound leg braces in front of people, because it is an awkward ordeal. He sprawls on the floor to slip them on, and then he struggles to stand up. But one night recently, one of his friends came over for dinner, and Ryan put on the braces in front of him.

Apprehensive, Sharan Kuperman told the friend, "Gee, you never saw Ryan walk."

"Yes he did," Ryan grinned, showing no hint of remorse. "Last year."