“It means a lot to me to have a family that can always help me get through the things I need to get through,” Ronnie Blair says of being adopted by detective Mike Blair, who had been called to the horrific crime scene
Ronnie Blair was lying on a bed in the intensive care unit of Tampa General Hospital, gauze bandages covering the arms and legs of the 8-year-old’s tiny body.
Mike Blair and his wife Danyel sat with him watching a movie, tending to the boy as he drifted in and out of a fitful, heavily medicated sleep.
“It was just devastating to me that he didn’t have a mom to take care of him in that condition,” Danyel tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
It had been two weeks since Ronnie lost his mother, Kenyatta Barron, on the devastating night of March 18, 2018. Ronnie’s father killed her and Ronnie’s sister, Ron’Niveya, 9, and almost killed Ronnie, who was stabbed and set aflame by his father.
Mike, 45, a veteran homicide detective with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, was called to the family’s home south of Tampa with several other detectives after Kenyatta had placed a desperate 911 call pleading for her life.
“There was no expectation Ronnie would live,” Mike says.
After that night, with Ronnie on his mind — “I was surprised that he was even alive because of all his horrific injuries,” Mike says — the father of five decided to bring the little boy a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey signed by players.
As Mike started to leave Ronnie’s hospital room, the boy reached out and grabbed Mike’s hand.
“Hey, would you watch a movie with me?” he pleaded.
That night, Mike came back with Danyel to watch Power Rangers. It was a simple request, but it would change the Blair family completely.
Five months later, in August 2018, the Blairs got a call from the guardian handling Ronnie’s case. She said Ronnie was in desperate need of a foster home after two foster situations didn’t work out.
“Forty-five seconds before that phone call I still wasn’t interested [in fostering], but I told her, ‘Bring him to me,'” says Mike. “I didn’t even clear it with Danyel because I knew what the answer would be.”
For more on Ronnie’s new chapter with the Blairs, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.
Ironically, Danyel — along with the couple’s kids (ages 16 to 23) — had spent the previous five years trying to convince Mike to consider fostering a child.
“It was something that we felt God had in the works,” says Danyel.
Less than two hours later, Ronnie was at the Blair house with just the shirt on his back, and by November 2019, he was officially adopted.
“He quickly became like any other younger brother,” says sibling Hunter Blair, 21. “He’s an extremely strong, funny kid. It’s hard to picture our family without him.”
Now 12, Ronnie has settled into his new life, swimming in the backyard pool, playing video games, hanging out with his siblings still at home (Hunter, 21, and PJ, 16 — Seth, 23, Brittney, 22, and Madison, 19, are living on their own) and snuggling up with the family’s dogs.
He hopes one day to become an actor, and in August, took his first plane ride for a family vacation in Washington, D.C.
“Whatever lies ahead for Ronnie, we want him to go after it and do it,” says Mike.
But the transition into the Blair family was tough, and Ronnie continues to heal from the physical and mental trauma he’s survived.
This July, after Ronnie bravely testified against his father in court, a Florida judge sentenced Ronnie’s father, Ronnie Oneal III, 32, to three life sentences, plus 60 years, after a jury found him guilty of the murders of Ronnie’s mother and sister, and the attempted murder of Ronnie.
“It was one of the most horrific crimes I’ve ever been a part of,” Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister tells PEOPLE. “But that child now has a chance at life because of this loving family.”
Counseling sessions, learning to express painful feelings in words and accepting that Mike or Danyel will never leave him have been transformative.
So have these words Mike or Danyel have him repeat as they embrace him: “I am safe, I am loved, I am part of this family.”
Says Ronnie: “It means a lot to me to have a family that can always help me get through the things I need to get through. I feel loved.”