By Lauren Mascarenhas, CNN
(CNN) — “Mom and Dad, they sacrificed their lives to save me,” 16-year-old Rotem Matias told CNN on Thursday.
Rotem is an Israeli-American teenager whose parents, Deborah and Shlomi Matias, were killed by Hamas gunmen in Israel. Rotem’s mother died trying to shield him. He was shot but survived the attack.
“I’m able to walk now. A few days ago, I couldn’t even stand,” Rotem told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “The bullet in my stomach has been taken out via surgery, and I’m feeling much, much better.”
Rotem said he plans to keep that bullet.
“I wanted to just keep it as a memory to never forget them and remember that even though it was the hardest and lowest point in my life, I found … some hope that maybe I could live and share the memories, and how I saw my parents, with other people,” he said on “CNN This Morning.”
Rotem reflected on his parents’ lives with his two sisters, Shakked and Shir, and grandfather, Ilan Troen, a professor emeritus from Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
“What their parents did, Shlomi and Deborah, was very seriously, systematically, lovingly, and with great care and intelligence, create a family,” Troen said. “Their life wasn’t always so easy, but they overcame whatever obstacles they had in creating a beautiful family.”
Just days ago, Troen had listened helplessly as his daughter was killed.
“We were on the phone with Deborah as she was killed,” Troen previously told CNN. “We were on the phone the entire day with our grandson, Rotem, as he lay first under her body, and then found a place to escape.”
“The brunt of the shot was borne by his mother,” he added.
“The terrorists who came, they had explosives and blew up the front door to their house and then blew out the front door to their so-called safe room.”
Rotem hid for more than 12 hours after he was shot, texting on his phone to communicate with people who were coaching him on how to breathe and manage his bleeding, Troen said. Rotem’s phone was down to a 4% charge when he was rescued.
“‘Mom and Dad are dead. Sorry,’” Shakked recounted the words her brother texted her in the aftermath of the attack. “That was when my service was gone, and I was cut off.”
Shakked said she then waited for 13 to 14 hours, unsure if her parents were really gone or if her brother was safe.
“I was so worried, and I was so scared,” she said. “No one should ever have to go through that – ever.”
Rotem and his sisters were reunited after the attack, left to grapple with the loss of their parents.
“They were very, very brave. They were good people, and they didn’t deserve anything this horrible,” Shir said. “None of the people in Israel, none of the foreign citizens who were here or taken deserve any of this.”
Deborah Matias attended the Rimon School of Music in the Tel Aviv area, where she met her husband, according to Troen.
“Deborah was a child of light and life,” Troen said. “She, rather than becoming a scientist or a physician, she said to me one day, ‘Dad, I have to do music, because it’s in my soul.’”
Rotem said his parents did everything in their power to give their children the lives that they wished for them.
“They wanted to us to be happy, to be whimsical,” Rotem said, his sisters sitting beside him.
And for a moment, all three smiled through their tears.
“They wanted us to be joyful. They wanted us to be in peace. They didn’t want us to be at a situation like this, and they wanted us to live, more than anything,” Rotem said.
“They won’t die there,” he added. “They won’t die. They will live on in memories and in stories.”
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